Archive for June, 2011

The “next” Harry Potter? A look at The Hunger Games as a movie franchise

Posted in Action, Film Industry, Interesting..., Upcoming Releases with tags , , , , , , , on June 24, 2011 by judsonw

On July 15, the final piece of the Harry Potter saga will unleash itself upon the world. After “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2,” arguably the most popular and loved series of books will officially end as a narrative (there will of course still be theme parks, online experiences, etc). So what new book series will take its place? The Twlight series may come close to Harry Potter’s rabid fan base, but that movie franchise is also coming to an end next year. And is there really a legitimate comparison between the two anyway?

The “next” Harry Potter franchise that everyone keeps talking about is The Hunger Games. Written by Suzanne Collins, the trilogy of young adult novels is about a post-apocolyptic America that is now called Panem. Panem is separated into 12 “Districts” that all serve the ruling “Capitol.” Each District has its own speciality. For example, District 12 is the coal mining district while District 4 is all about water. Long ago, the Districts held an uprising against the totalitarian Capitol, but eventually failed in their attempted fight for freedom. As punishment for this attempt, the Capitol now requires two “tributes,” one male and one female aged 12-17, to be sacrificed from each District. The tributes are then thrust into something called The Hunger Games, a reality television program where the kids are forced to fight to the death for all of Panem’s viewing pleasure. The Games continue until one tribute remains.

The protagonist of this story is Katniss Everdeen, a tough-as-nails 16 year old girl from District 12. Skilled with a bow and arrow, Katniss spends her days hunting for food so she can keep her mother and younger sister, Prim, alive. Katniss’s nightmare comes true when 12 year old Prim is selected for The Hunger Games. Katniss takes her place, immediately changing the lives of herself and everyone she knows.

The first novel, “The Hunger Games,” is an insanely addictive read. Ultimately a tale of survival, it features strong characters, great world building, and enrapturing action. It is currently being filmed for a March 2012 release. Here are five reasons it should succeed as a movie franchise and five reasons it may fail.

5 reasons it should work:

The cast

If you’ve ever seen “Winter’s Bone,” then you know Jennifer Lawrence can completely transform into a character. Katniss Everdeen is almost the exact same character as the character Lawrence played in that film, minus the bow and arrow. The casting for the main character couldnt have been more perfect. Josh Hutcherson (“The Kids are All Right”) shows some of the most promise of any young actor working today. He will be taking on the role of Peeta, Katniss’s fellow tribute from District 12 and sometime love interest. Woody Harrelson will play Haymitch, Katniss and Peeta’s mentor for the Games and a former winner. I couldn’t imagine a better person to play a belligerent drunk with a heart of gold (and that’s a compliment!) Rounding off the pitch perfect casting is Elizabeth Banks as the spunky Effie, Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’s stylist Cinna, Stanley Tucci as the Games flamboyant host, and Donald Sutherland as the Capitol’s evil President Snow. If this movie fails, it won’t be because of the lack of talent on board.

The director

The best way to predict if a movie is going to suck or not is to look back at the director’s previous work. Gary Ross has “Pleasantville” and “Sea Biscuit” on his resume. I’m sold.

The fan base

While The Hunger Games’ fans aren’t as widespread or rabid as Harry Potter’s, there’s still a fairly large following out there. Lawrence already made the cover of Entertainment Weekly in her Katniss garb, and more and more people are picking up the book every day. Come March, The Hunger Games may have as many fans as any other young adult book.

It appeals to both sexes

The Hunger Games is in the fortunate situation of doubling as a war and romance story. Katniss is a kick-ass, independent female hero that will be sure to draw in girls of all ages. There’s also a love triangle that is constantly building up underneath the surface between Katniss, Peeta and Katniss’s best friend, Gale. All of this is wrapped up in a testostorone-filled war zone with violent killings and explosions so you better bet that the marketing behind the film will push that to attract the male demographic as well.

No more Harry Potter

After this summer, the Harry Potter book and movie franchise will officially be over. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye, but there’s always another great story around the corner.

5 reasons it may fail:

The Twilight effect

For some reason The Hunger Games keeps getting compared to that vampire love story adored mostly by tween girls. The two series, however, couldn’t be any less alike. For one, the female main protagonist in The Hunger Games is actually a realisitic human being, not dependent on a man and not annoying as fuck. Katniss is what every young girl should strive to be…Bella is what every young girl should avoid becoming. While there is a romance angle to The Hunger Games, it isn’t as centrally focused as in Twilight. However, the Twilight franchise is currently bringing in the bucks, so sadly the people behind The Hunger Games films might play up the love triangle angle, resulting in an inferior product.

It’s too bleak and violent

At least on the page, The Hunger Games is gruesome, brutal, and sometimes hard to read. Collins is very descriptive in the tributes’ deaths, ranging from an arrow through the neck to beheadings to flying limbs. Mainstream America may just not be ready to accept a blockbuster about kids brutally murdering each other. The film is reportedly going to be rated PG-13, further proving the fact that the MPAA has no problem with kids-on-kids violence, but shudder at the sight of a nipple. Let’s hope for a hard PG-13 similar to “The Dark Knight,” and not a watered down version of the source material.

There’s not really an ending

Each book in The Hunger Games trilogy literally leads right into one another. There is no span of time between each book. If it’s faithful to the novel, the movie will end on a semi-cliffhanger, most likely upsetting many audiences who want more. A similar problem occured with “The Golden Compass,” which pretty much solely acted as set-up for a franchise that never happened.

The Games themselves

The largest, and most exciting, portion of the first book is the actual televised death match that Katniss tries to survive. During these Games, however, Katniss is mostly by herself, alone with her thoughts. Translating that to the screen will be difficult as her inner conflict over killing innocent people and trying to decide whether to trust Peeta make the book so hard to put down.

No more Harry Potter

As much as I love The Hunger Games, it doesn’t come close to the epicness of the story of the boy who lived. The final installment of the Harry Potter screen version may (hopefully) be so satisfying that audiences wont want another potential book adaptation movie franchise thrown in their face. Everything may just pale in comparison.

We’ll see what happens come March.

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Movie Review: ET + Cloverfield x The Goonies = “Super 8”

Posted in Action, Movie Review with tags , , , , , , , , on June 12, 2011 by judsonw

As soon as ET flies across that moon in the Amblin logo before “Super 8” begins, we know we’re in for something special. Behind such classic sci-fi films like “ET” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the involvement of Steven Spielberg’s studio instantly suggests a type of quality science fiction movie that is so rare in Hollywood today. The man behind this movie, JJ Abrams, grew up making films with super 8 cameras just like his idol, Steven Spielberg. The two somehow found each other years later to make this little passion project about kids who encounter a paranormal creature while filming a movie.

As soon as “Super 8” began, I was instantly hooked. All the kids were great, unknowns that actually acted like friends instead of a Hollywood representation of kids being kids. The dialogue between them is authentic and enjoyable to watch, as each kid takes a role in the filmmaking team. While the director of the group stands out, it’s Joe (Joel Courtney) who takes center stage as the heart of the movie. His mother recently killed in a work accident and his father (Kyle Chandler) not knowing how to deal, Joe focuses on helping his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) finish his film over the summer in a small 1979 Ohio town. His plans take a 360, however, when the kids witness a train crash while filming a scene after hours.

The train crash itself is absolutely exhilarating, a piece of action filmmaking hard to find these days. From this point on, I was geared up for something massive, something monumental the film would build up to. The problem with “Super 8” is the fact that it doesn’t really build up to anything significant. Abrams instead decides to focus on the relationships between the characters as something on a grander scale takes place in their peripherals. Because the characters are so well developed, this doesn’t bring the film down at all. Everything between the opening and the close kept my attention even though the lack of monster action became a tad bit frustrating. Like “Cloverfield,” the creature is only shown in glimpses. Since those glimpses don’t really offer anything intriguing, the constant mystery becomes more of a nuisance than a reason to keep watching.

So how is this movie like “ET?” For one, the score by Michael Giacchino brings back memories of John Williams’ work on that film, among others. The small town setting, dysfunctional family, and realistic child actors seal the deal on one nostalgic experience. Despite some minor flaws, “Super 8” is a movie definitely worth watching, if only for the fact that it’s a completely original film in a summer full of adaptations and sequels. Abrams is certainly a better director than writer, in this case at least, but the sometimes uneven script doesn’t bog down the experience of watching a completely original and refreshing film.

B+