Thursday, May 24, 2012

Future Classic Movies: “The Hunger Games”

Note: This post is part of the Future Classic Movies Blogathon monitored by Paula Guthat who writes and manages Paula’s Cinema Club blog.


The Hunger Games was one of the most anticipated film releases of 2012. Based on the young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, it is the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old girl coming to grips with life, love, and survival in the country of Panem, a post-apocalyptic world that once comprised the countries of North America. The Hunger Games is a modern film in almost every sense of the word, except one. Rather than focus wholly on action and special effects—and it has both aplenty—the film is rather old-fashioned in it’s narrative style and in its character development.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen
Character is king (or queen)
The film spends time acquainting us with Katniss. She lives in District 12, one of a dozen districts that surround the Capitol of Panem.We discover that her father died in an accident in the district and that her mother never fully recovered from that event. Katniss is, in many respects, the head of the family, caring for her mother and younger sister, “Prim” Primrose. A sharpshooter with a bow and arrow, Katniss hunts game with childhood friend and fellow district 12 resident, Gale (Liam Hemswoth). Director Gary Ross, uses flashbacks—a classic Hollywood device—to show us that Katniss is motivated by a strong sense of love and responsibility. She is very tender with sister Prim, comforting her in the days leading up to the reaping and tough with her mother when Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place in the Hunger Games.

Realistic romance
There is romance in The Hunger Games, but it isn’t sappy or trite. Collins’s heroine is a complex one and the film explores Katniss’s desire for a relationship mixed with her fear of what that means in Panem. Can she really experience love and happiness in a country that sacrifices it’s children for sport and subjugation? Are her feelings for best friend Gale romantic love or something else? Can she give herself to Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a boy she thinks is morally superior and too good for her? All the above dilemmas are typical in literally hundreds of movies, but The Hunger Games treats them seriously, refusing to dissolve into sentimentality. The violence, although realistic and graphic, isn’t gratuitous. It doesn’t detract from the overall narrative, but instead helps advance it. The film has some razzle-dazzle special effects, but again they support rather than overwhelm the story.

Golden Age storytelling
Strong roles for women were common during
 the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The Hunger Games benefits from all the technological wonders of 21st-century filmmaking, but what makes it hold up is it’s emphasis on the story. It has a beginning, a middle, and end and has more in common with classical cinema from Hollywood’s Golden Age—how about a strong female heroine for one—than it’s contemporaries. Many of today’s films rely on quick-edits, graphic violence, and special effects, passing them off as good storytelling. To be fair, The Hunger Games uses all of the above techniques, but as already stated, they advance the narrative instead of obscurring it.

Stronger heroine
The Hunger Games is a 21st-century film, no doubt about it. What makes it a modern classic in my eyes is its focus on story and characterization over special effects and showy techniques. Featuring a heroine that is strong and multifaceted, the film reminds us of a time when great roles for women were the norm, not the exception.

Whether or not The Hunger Games stands as a classic 20-30 years from now is anyone’s guess, but I’m casting my ballot today. The Hunger Games deserves to be called a classic.


10 comments:

  1. Well done, Stephen. Having just finished reading the source novel, I really do have to commend the filmmakers for delivering (although skimping a bit to get it a PG-13 rating) on its premise. I did have my doubts months ago when I first heard of it (my daughter read the entire trilogy) and its concept. Being one who years ago has seen 'Battle Royale', I somewhat dismissed it. Yet both the film and novel by author Collins flat out surprised me. It managed to be thought-provoking, entertaining, and insightful. You can't ask for much more than that. Thanks for this.

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    1. Dear le0pard13, thanks for stopping by. I thought the filmmakers did a good job adapting the book for the screen. And the themes and how Collins handled them was very mature and insightful. So much more complex and satisfying than most young adult fiction. Can't wait for "Catching Fire."

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  2. Stephen, thank you so much for taking part in the FCM Blogathon. I too loved THE HUNGER GAMES and thought Katniss was a well-drawn and admirable character, but you brought up a lot of things that I missed. It does have a lot of similarities with Golden Age Hollywood pictures. Maybe it's no coincidence that District 12 seems to be caught in a sort of '30s/40s time warp, as that is when leading ladies like Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, etc. had their heyday. (Thanks for putting in a picture of Stanwyck...she is my idol LOL) Awesome job!

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    1. Paula, thanks for asking me to take part in the blogathon. I love Stanwyck too. I picked "Annie Oakley" because she, like Katniss, provided for her family by hunting game, before she became famous and traveled the world (Kind of like Katniss after the first Games). And also for the fact that Katniss is a fairly well developed female character. Rare today, but not so in the 1930s and 1940s as you noted. The post has cracked the top-five on my blog already!

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  3. I really like how you set up your post with elements from "traditionally classic" movies. Although I have not seen Hunger Games myself, it does seem to have

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  4. Thanks, iluvcinemai! Glad you stopped by and left a comment.

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  5. I love the choice here and definitely agree that it will make it as a classic. I wonder if the sequels will join it as a classic series like Star Wars.

    You give a very interesting look at the "romance" in The Hunger Games. That was one aspect of the film that I didn't buy in to or like too much, but you present it in a different like that gives me a better appreciation for it. Thanks!

    Great choice.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by! I hope the sequels are as good; loved all the books.

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  6. This film didn't immediately come to mind as a classic but now that you mentioned it, it certainly has the ingredients to earn that status. I love the strong female heroine aspect and the theme of self sacrifice will certainly resonate for decades to come. I do like the understated romance here, unlike the equally popular Twilight, ugh.

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    1. Thanks, Ruth. The themes of responsibility and self sacrifice are very strong. Katniss is a great character and a good role model for young women, I think.

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