25 March 2012

To Kill a Mockingjay

In the midst of Life, there are occasionally films. I needed to get entirely away from the phone for a while on Friday, so I did something I seldom do (and, fortunately, will never have to do again in this town): I went to a megaplex, screwed up my back, and watched a H'wood mass-media product in the company of the locals.


Herewith follows a list of semirandom observations on The Hunger Games.

  • The script was very well done, both objectively (standing alone) and in fidelity to the book. Admittedly, the violence was toned down somewhat to attain the commercially necessary (if artistically bankrupt) PG–13 rating, which will prove a significant barrier later in the series.
  • Jennifer Lawrence did a fine job in the lead role, but for one thing: Her body type is not convincing as a sixteen-year-old. She's a woman (and there's nothing wrong with that), not a teenaged girl. That said, the film — more than the novel — deemphasized ages well enough that I can accept the idea of a nineteen-year-old Tribute. After all, that was the average age of soldiers selected through a different sort of draft in Vietnam...
  • Woody Harrelson was magnificent as Haymitch. He understood the character well enough to play the character, and not merely Katniss's unsophisticated observations of surface behavior in the novel. I won't say a lot more about why this was superior to merely playing him as a drunk, due to spoilers for the later books... and because I want to see if the filmmakers agree and continue with it. Ironically, the key to Haymitch's character was expressed by President Snow to Seneca Crane in the garden, but I don't think very many will pick that up.

    Stanley Tucci's portrayal of Caesar Flickerman was also quite enjoyable, particular for someone (like me) who despises "reality TV" and especially fake-contest-oriented versions of it.

  • The soundtrack, however, sucked. It did not suck in a "this is bad music" way, like so many soundtracks do; as individual pieces and as a semiorchestral suite, it was fine. It just was not the right kind of soundtrack for this film, having succumbed to two pernicious H'wood imperatives: The Massed String Effect and The Signature Song-and-Singer Premise.

    The film requires much greater variety in instrumentation than it received. For example, many of the quasi-bluegrass passages sounded as if they had originally been written for guitar and transcribed for banjo. Too, there should have been a much greater emphasis on solo instruments with little or no backing — more Cal or Local Hero or even (to pick a purposely outlandish example) Quadrophenia than stereotypical H'wood orchestration.

  • Audience demographics were highly amusing. Despite it being spring break in both the secondary schools and the university, there were almost no teens/teenyboppers in the audience at the midday showing I attended; at least 80% were adults, and mine was far from the only grey/balding head. That said, the seating hasn't gotten any better as it has "worn in."