Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012)

It’s no surprise that the next Twilight, the next Da Vinci Code, the next Harry Potter was going to be the Hunger Games. This highly anticipated adaptation has had the masses lusting over the movie for months after the success of the trilogy. I read the first book in a weekend; It’s a quick read but you can tell the author Suzanne Collins did not want the book to appear too gratuitous so it could appeal to younger readers. The movie took the same approach with a PG-13 rating. My first impression of the book was fairly flat- uninhabited and missing something. The Hunger Games shocked the American audience by portraying a futuristic world where kids fight other kids to the death. Unfortunately this is not a novel concept; Japan was fortunate to get a novel and a movie out of Battle Royale back in 1999 and 2000 respectively, which like most concepts in the U.S. appeared to have been ripped off by Collins, but Collins maintains her innocents in never hearing about that story until her book was turned in. It’s almost been 10 years since I saw Battle Royale, but its moments were so vivid and etched in my memory, that after reading and watching Hunger Games, there’s just not enough creativity to think the movie is anything special.

The Hunger Games is number 8 (out of 20) on my anticipated movies of 2012. I wish I had put it lower or had replaced it completely. Director Gary Ross paid very close homage to the original works by not straying too far from the source material. In an effort to satisfy fans of the book, you will know every next scene in the movie, possibly even the next lines.

Where the Hunger Games comes up short is through the storytelling. The book is narrated through the 16 year old mind of Katniss, who explains every emotion, every thought, and every bit of her excruciating experience through the Hunger Games. Every single death is felt by Katniss no matter how brutal, which she describes through fear and humility. The movie cannot depict this. Instead, it adheres to a PG-13 rating where the deaths happen quickly, sometimes in slow motion with off camera shots. We never know about most of the kids aside from the snarling looks we are given before the Games begin. From the audience perspective, those are the bad kids and then there is Katniss, so it’s OK that these other kids die in the meantime. The supporting characters are completely undeveloped and it hurts the emotion on screen, especially if you have read the book.

Overall, I suppose it is not a terrible adaptation. It’s hard to overlook the huge marketing strategy of the trilogy’s followers- The studio of course wanted Twilight boxoffice receipts out of this. They sure got it with $155 million weekend opening, almost breaking the Dark Knight’s record of $158 mil. The average movie-goer will probably enjoy it. I just can’t sit back and pretend it’s anything special while this story has been done before (and better) over 10 years ago. Watch Battle Royale instead. 


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Review: John Carter (Andrew Stanton, 2012)

Every year I make a top 10 or 20 anticipatedmovie list and every year there’s at least one or two movies I regret to put on the list, because I don’t expect to enjoy it. This year I already missed the Grey on my list, although in my defense I did not know about the movie’s existence until after I made my list. In this case, I regret this movie was not higher on my list. John Carter exceeded my expectations by quite a large margin and looking back, there are plenty of clues that could have suggested I would enjoy this movie quite a bit.

First, director Andrew Stanton, having little but great success with directing Pixar’s animated movies such as A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and WALL-E.  The ladder two are in my top 100 Films of All Time List. Stanton is the second director we’ve seen in the last 3 months making the transition from animated to live action with great success. The first being Brad Bird with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which I also enjoyed.

Second, John Carter is a Disney produced movie. Disney of course owns Pixar but Disney is also responsible for bringing to life Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (I pretend the other three movies don’t exist). Disney was a afraid the dark themed PG-13 Pirates of the Caribbean would deter parents from taking their kids, and be a scar on their reputation but the movie ended up grossing $654 million worldwide.

And lastly, I knew nothing of the source material before viewing the movie therefore I had very little attachment to the character John Carter. When I asked people at work whether they were interested in the movie, a buddy of mine joked; “They made a spinoff of Terminator?”

John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) is mysteriously transported to Mars to which there is oxygen and two races living on the slowly dying planet. One of the races looks human while the other race has green skin and four arms. The human races are in the middle of a civil war and John Carter meets the beautiful Princess of Helium, (Lynn Collins) who requires the help of Carter to defend their city Helium from a pending attack. Carter is reluctant to fight for anyone, but eventually sees the good of bringing peace to the planet of Mars.

I was initially afraid the overwhelming use of CGI would be a huge distraction as it typically is with movies that need giant exotic set pieces. The trailer reminded me a lot of what Attack of the Clones looked like, but I was surprised at how fantastically rendered the effects were. The space ships did not seem implausible, the giant white apes did not look fake, the green Martians moved and acted alien and John Carter’s ability to jump great distances did not look unrealistic. Because John is accustomed to the gravity on Earth giving him greater bone density, John is much stronger and has the ability to jump great distances.

Having casted Johnny Depp so well as Captain Jack Sparrow in Curse of the Black Perl, I feel Disney may have got away with casting Taylor Kitsch  (who?) as John Carter. In hindsight, the film only made $30 million domestically in its first weekend so they probably are debating whether they made the right choice whereas maybe a bigger named actor could have drawn more people to see the movie. Kitsch does not bring anything special to the table and merely carries out his lines in verably bland fashion. The comic relief is typical Disney styled humor, mostly revolving around a dog-like Alien creature that follows John Carter around and Lynn Collins is stunning ly beautiful in her role. John Carter of Mars is a uniquely complicated plot from Disney, but overall gives a fairly enjoyable story and respectable action set pieces sequences. My guess is the debate to turn this series into a trilogy or more will ultimately depend on the final gross and how well DVD sales turn out so do not expect any sequel announcements soon. 

Grade: 89