Essentially, it is about an earnest boy whose old man pays a small fortune in a bidding war with his landlord for a feisty horse, who promises his father that he will not regret losing the farm due to this rampantly impulsive auction bid. Set the stage for the Little Engine That Whinnied. It basically digresses from there. Lad whispers the horse into plowing the stony, worthless field, thus saving the family plot (we guess, there is no resolution), and half the village seems to turn out to witness the inevitable plowing victory. Robbed of the brief but satisfying victory, the film instead marches forth into WWI, and our horse, reminiscent of Bill the pony in The Lord of the Rings (as if he understood), gets hauled off into service, although somehow paid for by the captain who will mount him. For the same auction sum, no less. Honestly, afterword, it drags on as the "miracle horse" charms absolutely everyone who comes into contact with him, is captured by Germans, who perform traitorous acts in order to keep him from the front line/food line/plow line. Of course, when Joey, I think his name is Joey, leads the plow dragging cannons which kill his English kin, he is heroic and driven, but horse face closeups show what might be his regret. Then, blah blah blah, our English lad is opposite the German front lines which house the horse, is maimed, the horse escapes in a Costneresque suicide sprint to the other side, and after a ridiculous moment of armistice, is reunited with his boy. Who needs this? It sucks. Truly the worst film from this legendary director.
That I have not read the books is quite likely a blessing, because I can only imagine that fans of the novel would fling their own poo at the screen in outrage over this painful puke of a film. I will dispense with character development, because there is NONE, but suffice it to say that what passes as character development passes swiftly and seemingly without consequence, although I learned to my chagrin that this is part 1 of 3 anticipated films, so who knows, perhaps part 2 will be "Hunger for Character Motivation and Emotion Games". One can only hope, or not.
Everyone already seems to know the premise of this film: it is an amalgam of Running Man, Lord of the Flies, Logan's Run, and The 5th Element. In fact, the worst part of this dreck is the preponderance of foppish dandies in heavy handed 5th Element outfits and hair styles, who make up the population of what I assume was the rich and succored 13th colony in this post-apocalyptic world. The remaining 12 colonies, who participated in an uprising 75 years prior, are now being continually punished for being bad years ago by being forced to send one male and one female teen to cut each others throats in a battle to the death called The Hunger Games. The reward, perhaps, is that the colonies are all not systematically annihilated, partly in thanks for sending their best and brightest in this random drawing. Oh, did I mention that Shirley Jackson's The Lottery also plays a prominent inspiration? One credibility problem is that not one single character, or actor really, in the poorest and hungriest of colonies (number 12) looks remotely hungry. Granted, they are not as robust as I am, but as poverty and hunger are the driving influence in these people's existence, hunger and desperation should at least seem evident in them. Instead, we are given a cursory flashback of a loaf of bread being tossed to our lead teen Katniss, flung in the mud and rain, instead of to the hogs which were supposed to receive said dinner. She seems grateful, but it is hard to tell, perhaps she is just an angry teen. Point is: folks are hungry, but we can't devote any more time, screen effort, or find realistically starved acting actors to portray that state of being.
Part 2: Katniss is flung into the games themselves. She captures the wealthy dandies just by being herself. HERSELF.. imagine. "But I'm not good at making friends or talking to people...". "honey, just be yourself". Yawn. Actually, she kind of captures the crowd in part by the unmotivated aid of a drunken Woody Harrelson, who basically instructs her of the ways of TV's Survivor (oh, did I mention this is similar to Survivor as well? Except they don't kill each other in that television show, and they should). His advice: make people like you by giving them what they want: wide eyed honest hotness, young love, and shooting arrows up the wazoos of the aristocracy, figuratively speaking of course. BOOM, they love her! She gets an 11 out of 10. On to the actual battle royale, or the Running Man. Improbably alliances are formed, among the most bloodthirsty pig head crowd as well, who would kill each other in their sleep given the slightest chance, yet his gang lasts until nearly the end of the games. Wrong, the head GI Joe-Aryan boy would have quietly slit the throats of his alliance competitors in sleep and taken their stuff, but whatever, I guess we have a film to run here. Eventually, through little directly violent death, in fact the famed violence of the book is nowhere to be found in this film at all, the bad guys get it, and our victor(s) are handed the trophy of life, but only after one last flipping of the bird at the system (the freakin system, man!) by attempting to exit the game in an unexpected and unsportsmanlike manner. We are left with the clear expectation of episode 2 (boooo!), when Donald Sutherland, the President, raises an eyebrow (episode 2!), scowls, and sticks his ass to the camera and marches back upstairs to his tall tower. I. Just. Can't. Wait. Thhhbbbbpththhht.
OK, it wasn't an epic fail, like Job Bob Jones, or whatever that Disney flop is named right now, and there were a few genuine moments of excitement and tension, but three exciting scenes does not a quarter billion dollar film make. Between those sort of decent moments (which held whispers of First Blood and even Avatar) was a giant tedious mess. Also, the Truman Show-inspired all controlling and hovering Big Brother/show producer/God aspect was distracting and unfair to the premise of the games to begin with. Yes, it was like a Death Race 2000-esque television show for the sweaty gambling masses, complete with betting odds, but I actually turned on my phone to see what time it was and thus how much longer this thing had to continue on. Blurg. I'm sure a much better adaptation could have been made.
The film loosely revolves around the 4th of July and more of Shep's stories, but its joy is the simple, classic Shepherd narrative story telling and characterization. That Dillon and Broderick starred in this glorious piece firmly places it in the ranks all time no-budget glory. They are perfect. The film is perfect. Plot matters not at all as does the sheer urgency of seeing it. It's another amalgam of Shep's stories which are welded together in film. It's all brilliant, touching, hilarious, and so wonderful. You may find yourself repeating "Hi Ralph!" after watching, for the rest of your days, and that would be a good thing.