The Hunger Games is arguably the biggest movie event of 2012 so far. It’s taken the world by storm and drawn countless comparisons to the literary classic, The Great Gatsby. Both films are set in the Roaring Twenties and follow the travails of a self-made man, played by actor/director/writer/producer Gary Oldman. In an interview with NPR, Oldman compares his character to the infamous Jay Gatsby, saying, “He is a bit like Gatsby. He started with nothing and he built a huge amusement park.”
The similarities between Hunger Games and Gatsby are certainly there. Not only do they follow the same basic storyline, but they even share several key details. For instance, both movies prominently feature an old school jazz band, composed of veterans in their seventies. You’ll also find many references to the Jazz Age in terms of fashion, speech, and attitude.
One of the more unique aspects of The Hunger Games is its presentation. Much of it takes place in an urban forest–a replica of the titular Capitol City’s urban jungle where the fights to the death are staged. The cinematography is stunning, utilizing innovative green screen technology to superimpose live-action video and computer-generated imagery over live-action scenes. The result is a fully immersive, 3D-like experience that draws you into the heart of the action. It’s been hailed as a technical virtuoso and Academy Award nominee Andy Nicholson even went so far as to term it the “Oscar winner for cinematography.”
Perhaps the most interesting element of The Hunger Games is its subtextual references to real-world issues such as climate change, food security, and natural resources depletion. One of the most prominent images from the movie is of a young boy watching an atomic bomb go off in the distance. This is a poignant reference to the devastating effects climate change is already having and will continue to have on future generations. This is made even more potent by the fact that the bomb is nuclear-powered. For these reasons, and many more, The Hunger Games is required viewing for those interested in current affairs and literature. It may even prove to be inspirational for anyone seeking change. At the very least, it’s an interesting watch.
The Great Gatsby
One of the most intriguing aspects of The Great Gatsby is its setting. The novel and the ensuing movie versions are set in the Roaring Twenties, an era that saw tremendous social change and upheaval. The Great Gatsby follows the travails of Jay Gatsby (played by actor/director/writer/producer/musician/composer/arranger Bob Dylan), a man who, through self-promotion and a bit of luck, becomes the owner of the Riviera hotel and casino in the middle of nowhere. This is where the story begins–and it doesn’t let up from there. Things take an interesting turn when Gatsby meets the enigmatic Daisy (played by actress/model/singer/dancer/writer/producer/director/composer/arranger Katherine Biggs).
Like in The Hunger Games, much of The Great Gatsby takes place in a suburban-like setting, this time in the desert. It’s here that we encounter the famous ‘party over view’–a technique created by cinematographer John Bailey where he blurs the line between reality and fiction by integrating non-professional actors into shots. These are the kinds of people you might see at a middle class neighborhood barbecue or a family gathering around the holidays: people you wouldn’t normally associate with showbusiness. This technique not only gives the film a very realistic atmosphere but also provides the audience with a tantalizing peek into the lavish lifestyle of the 1920s.
It’s also important to point out that the social upheaval seen in The Great Gatsby is not restricted to the years between the two World Wars. On the contrary, the novel and movie take place in the immediate pre-war era, in the years leading up to the stock market crash of 1929. In the aftermath of that crash, people were forced to reevaluate many of their old assumptions and behaviours. The social upheaval that ensued is still being felt today.
Deep House/Psychedelic Tramp
If you like your cinema rich in atmosphere and striking design, you might want to check out the work of director Martin Scorsese. Without question, one of the most interesting aspects of Scorsese’s oeuvre is the variety of films he’s directed over the years. Not only do they range from gangster flicks to Westerns, but they’ve also covered topics as varied as sex addiction and climate change. Most famously, the list of films he’s directed includes such classics as Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, and the controversial Gangs of New York. One of the more interesting recent Scorsese films is Deep House, a psychedelic trip through music which explores the transition from the Swing Era to the modern era. It’s filled with vintage cars, old jazz records, and colorful costumes–all of which contribute to create a gloriously sleazy atmosphere.
An important aspect of the film is its score, which ranges from a raucous rendition of “Hound Dog” to a delicate piano piece. The vibrant energy and innovative use of Eastern European instruments marks a radical departure from the composer’s earlier work. A similar case could be made for the music in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, where the composer Alex North gives the film a unique, avant-garde vibe. When it comes to film music, you can’t really classify Alex North as a ‘techie’–he’s truly an artist’s artist.
An Unlikely Collaboration
One of the more interesting recent film collaborations is the pairing of director/writer/star Charlie McDowell and composer/multi-instrumentalist Joel Pianka. McDowell’s work is filled with memorable characters, each with their own distinct idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. Pianka, who collaborated with McDowell on the film, said the director “really does have a unique way of seeing the world.” He continued, “There’s a certain imagination and a freedom of expression that Charlie brings to everything that he does, and it shows in the final product. People who love music will definitely love the soundtrack to the film.”
The two artists’ styles meld seamlessly, creating a distinctive tone that permeates every scene. There are several songs on the soundtrack that are directly related to the plot. For example, the crime boss, Legs Diamond, and his mistress, Bonnie, listen to a love song during a romantic moment. In another scene, the main character, played by McDowell, performs for a group of mobsters in a catholic church. During the show, the piece the main character is singing is “Ave Maria.” It’s a timeless song that has been sung at masses for centuries. This unlikely pairing of director and composer is definitely a ‘techie’ one-of-a-kind.
A Film Retrospective
Even if you aren’t a fan of films, it’s worth looking back on the cinematic greats from the past. One of the more interesting film retrospectives is the one that takes place in the Walt Disney Theatre in Walt Disney World. In December 2011, the American Cinematheque, whose mission is to restore and preserve American and international cinema, brought together some of the most prominent names in Hollywood for a gala screening. This is the first time some of the films on this list have been shown in over thirty years, and it was undoubtedly one of the most memorable film festivals of all time.
The retrospective began with a bang. Literally. At the very beginning of the first film, a massive fire erupts in the building, setting off a chain reaction that quickly turns into a full-blown inferno. As the building continues to collapse, the surviving audience members desperately flee the screen, clutching their popcorn and soda. It was a shocking opening that set the tone for the rest of the retrospective. These were the kinds of movies that made the big kids’ room their own personal movie theater, and that’s not all. After the first film, there were no dull moments. The second movie, Blade Runner, which stars Harrison Ford, is one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. The third film is one of the most influential films of all time, and one of the reasons why the American Cinematheque is considered such a prestigious institution. And the list goes on. This was arguably the greatest film festival of all time, and it’s well-deserved Golden Reel nomination for Best Special Effects should serve as testament to the technical brilliance of Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.