Monday, March 26, 2012

The Sutherland debate

The grand countdown ended Friday night at the CineMagic in St. Peter. As an aside, I'd never seen the St. Peter theater near full before. But it was. A woman behind me said she had come from the River Hills Mall, where she couldn't get a ticket for the movie we were about to see, and she had to high-tail it 12 miles north so she wouldn't miss it. Of course, folks, I am speaking of "The Hunger Games," which nearly ousted the last Harry Potter movie for most ticket sales in an opening weekend.

For the most part, I love-love-loved it. I only noticed minor tweaks to the plot in order make it movie-ish. I'm fine with those little changes because, as is, the movie was 2 hours and 24 minutes or something, so if we start adding in those throwaway characters and plot points, we'd be sitting through a 3-hour epic.

But my problems with two characters cast in essential roles remain. And they are two casting calls that I have yet to find an ally in my disagreement.

Haymitch. Yes, Woody Harrellson used to be an addict of some sort. Now he lives in Hawaii, surfs all the time and eats organic. It shows. He's tan. He's thin. And slapping a strange, blond wig on him and putting a whiskey in his hand doesn't make him look like a 30-year career drinker. I pictured Haymitch as weather-beaten. I pictured him older, a bit hunched over, with a paunchy belly from 12 hours a day spent drinking and feeling sorry for himself. Woody looked like a regular guy trying to look like a drunk. To me, Haymitch is such an important role in these books/films, and now we're locked into Woody, and that makes me sad. For Haymitch, I would have gone with a veritable unknown. We didn't need another star's name assigned to the film. The notoriety of the books is plenty to fill the seats. (Clearly.)

But the man cast as President Snow has been the most heavily debated character between me and my friends. President Snow is the head of a society in which 12 districts go along with killing 23 children every year, which may not be as unimaginable as we would like to think. Hitler made mass executions palatable to millions of people. So I was looking for an actor to play Snow who had that kind of Hitleresque presence, the kind that scares you to death to even look him in the eye. Take Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort in the "Harry Potter" series. Talk about a commanding presence.

I found Sutherland to have an opposite screen presence, sort of gentle and calm, and not the kind of eery calm where he could just burst forth in seething, violent rage. Just look at the picture up there to the right. This is a still from the movie. Doesn't he look like an old, confused Santa Claus?

My sister said it all comes down to which roles you have seen Sutherland play: the soft and gentle or the icy and sinister, because, she says, he plays both equally well. I know Sutherland as the kind father in "Pride and Prejudice," or how about "Ordinary People"? Classic. And of course, there was my guilty pleasure of the '90s, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Great flick. Oh, Merrick ...

"The Hunger Games" ends with a close-up of Snow's face, and then he turns and walks up the stairs. I suppose I was supposed to see an evil plot developing behind his eyes, some sort of target being placed on the back of Katniss Everdeen. Already he realized what he had allowed happen: too much hope is dangerous, he had told the game master, Seneca Crane. ... I really didn't see those things. I wasn't intimidated. Sutherland doesn't have the presence to pull off such an important role, if you ask me. And, honestly, I think such a terrible miscasting is detrimental to the series. By the third and fourth movies, we're going to need a Hitler.

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