I really enjoyed The Hunger Games. There, I’ve said it.
I should have hated it for three prime reasons: 1) I didn’t read the book, 2) I’m not in the targeted demographic (teens) and 3) the film contained barely any humor.
But somehow, the filmmakers here engaged my attention and kept it, despite the marathon length of the picture (a whopping two hours and 22 minutes — I did take a much-needed personal intermission at approximately the halfway point).
I went on Sunday morning at 10, and probably 200 other patrons joined me at the Cinemark Louis Joliet Mall, including a 40-something couple all over each other who plopped down right next to me (in the end it was OK, they didn’t mind me taking notes on my mobile device, so their mashing and the bright phone cancelled each other out). Likewise, many patrons of all ages were enjoying the breakfast of champions of popcorn at that ungodly hour.
I also should say that any book that engages so many people — The Hunger Games must have been the subject of the Metra book club for months now, based on my unscientific observations — is a good thing, be it Harry Potter, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or even Curious George.
The film engaged me 24 hours before it even started. I ordered my tickets on Fandango.com early Friday, fearing a madhouse at the moviehouse. Saturday morning, I got an email saying that I got a complimentary song from The Hunger Games’ soundtrack, which I immediately downloaded (this all happened on the mobile device). "Tomorrow Will Be Kinder" by The Secret Sisters is pretty much a lullaby, but who can argue with free music? This was a novel bonus, one which I hope studios embrace more frequently.
On to the screen. Blood, hand-to-hand combat, suspense, Dungeons and Dragons-type beasts, plus a fascistic government ruled by TV, and some manufactured love, all combined to make this movie good on a lot of levels.
The premise: Sometime in the near future, colonies of an unnamed country (presumably the U.S.) each submit two chosen teens to enter a survival-of-the-fittest contest. It’s all broadcast live on TV, and it’s cynically manipulated by the TV network (which seems to be the same entity as the government). It’s Shirley Jackson’s short story "The Lottery" combined with American Idol, Network and any Mel Gibson epic (thankfully Mel isn’t involved in this one).
The teens are set loose in a forest. There we’re treated to the best wilderness scenes since Rambo, with Katniss Everdeen (which sounds a lot like one of the drummers who substituted for Peter Criss on one of the KISS tours in the 1980s), played by Jennifer Lawrence, treating her own wounds while figuring out how to stay alive.
Coalitions are formed and broken, animals are manipulated (and even created by the multimedia-gifted directors of the contest, who resemble a mix between NASA scientists and out-of-work web designers) and new breeds of insects are inflicted upon the subjects.
Many of the actions are reminiscent of life at Covenant Harbor Bible Camp back when I was work crew (maintenance) supervisor: Giant fires are started, which would draw the wrath of the Lake Geneva, WI, fire department; and when Katniss unleashes a nasty firestorm of "Trackerjackers" (a nasty genetic form of wasps that causes hallucinations and even death), I am reminded of the homebrewed wasp killer we created using gas, weed killer and barbecue sauce that sent those insects to a fiery death (after they angrily chased us through the woods while they were on fire).
The hallucinogenic sequences here, caused by those horrific insects, are the best cinematic portrayals since Easy Rider, by the way.
A sexually ambivalent Lenny Kravitz and an all-knowing Donald Sutherland (does he play any other role? JFK was on the other night and he knows everything) round out the cast here, along with a wicked Stanley Tucci, who plays the host of the televised proceedings.
Everyone here either sports a mean beard or a wicked-long haircut, which makes The Hunger Games an early candidate for the most Hirsute Film of 2012.
Other observations at the moviehouse
- Looking for a miracle ticket: I’m not a Deadhead per se, but I do acknowledge the Grateful Dead as the best-ever band from the U.S.: Longevity, songcraft and interpretation earn them the top shelf on my mantle of wonderfully quirky and relevant American musicianship. So when I saw that Fathom.com was bringing a long-lost filmed show from Alpine Valley in Wisconsin in 1989 to the big screen in April, it brought a huge smile to my face. I can already imagine the aroma wafting through the mall cinema ...
- Every time I see Samuel L. Jackson deliver any kind of soliloquy, I expect him to throw in a bit of Pulp Fiction from the Old Testament or about the virtues of tasty burgers. Unfortunately, for the upcoming The Avengers, I don’t think he’ll deliver on the humor. No laughs there.
- How many Spider-Men do we need? Yikes. The cast’s inclusion of a serious Denis Leary might be novel, but otherwise, is this necessary?
- Not again: The Twilight Saga Breaking Dawn Part 2 returns to the big screen in November. Mark your calendars for more misery.
- According to the previews, the rotting corpse of Whitney Houston earned the top-selling soundtrack of all-time honors for The Bodyguard, returning to theaters soon. I highly doubt these earnings numbers — I’ve owned three copies of The Song Remains the Same just on my own.
- If you own a business in the Joliet area, you might want to consider taking out ads that air before the movie starts. I saw commercials for two area colleges before this one started, as well as a spot for a local orthodontist. Cheap advertising?