With the much-awaited opening of The Hunger Games in theaters, a movie in which the main character is a teenaged girl who hunts with a bow to provide for her family and ultimately to save her life, debate has raged on the blogosphere over whether the movie glorifies hunting or reflects the overall brutality of the futuristic society it portrays. In the movie, as it does in the book, hunting is portrayed as an admirable skill that promotes self-reliance, courage and respect for life — attributes many of today’s hunters will readily recognize in their own sporting lives. In fact, Katniss, the main character, exhibits more compassion and a reluctance to kill her fellow human than the city-dwelling Capitol residents who watch the games for fun.
The Hunger Games has garnered some positive press, particularly for women hunters, but may remain an oddity in that respect coming from Hollywood, for there remains abundant examples of movies and television programs that exhibit everything from total ignorance about hunting to a pointed effort to ridicule the tradition as being participated in by brutish louts bent on the destruction of every living thing in the forest. Here are some of the worst offenders.
The Bambi Hunter
The scene in Bambi where the hunter (a.k.a. man) shoots the little deer’s mother set the stage for all future hunter-bashing. It is admittedly a touching scene since Bambi and his woodland pals all seem so darn lovable and smart and human-like, what with them talking, ice skating and falling in love in the spring and all -- never mind that most deer lovin’ takes place in the fall. Had the movie tried to even remotely represent what deer “love” is really like during the rut, Bambi would have been seen as a callous, womanizing buck, beating up the other bucks and then ditching his girl Faline to chase down and have his way with every willing floozy doe in the forest. Had it been portrayed more realistically, feminists would be screaming for Bambi’s rack. Heck, even Gloria Steinem would’ve snatched the rifle from “man’s” hands and smoked Bambi herself.
Instead, the hunter who killed Bambi’s mother (who in real life would’ve coldly run him off soon anyway so she could get busy with other bucks) is ranked as one of the top 25 villains in movie history right along with Gordon Gekko, Hannibal Lecter, Nurse Ratched and the shark from Jaws. Former Beatle Paul McCartney says the movie is what turned him into an animal rights activist. The theme continues in other Disney animated blockbusters such as Beauty and the Beast, where the hunter, Gaston, is portrayed as a chauvinistic villain intent on killing the Beast.
The Shaw Hunter
Running with the whole Disney-inspired hunter-as-villain theme, Open Season is a more modern animated flick about a naïve, wimpy grizzly bear raised in captivity who befriends a deer and finds himself loose in the woods just as hunting season is about to open. Shaw, the brutish, unshaven, mulleted redneck complete with a flannel shirt, Blaze vest and smog-belching truck, is set on killing anything that moves in the woods. He’s even so reckless and bent on shooting game that he’s prepared to begin shooting up the town when the deer escapes from his hood. The movie begins by him running a deer down on the highway and then strapping it to his hood. And of course, hunting season means everything is in season -- a time when man basically wages outright war on nature -- since the actual complexity of individual species seasons with bag limits and management objectives is too complex a concept for the average Hollywood producer. It’s admittedly just not as much fun either.
The Dale Hunter
One of the admittedly most hilarious episodes of King of the Hill centers around Hank, Dale and the rest of the fathers taking their kids on their first deer hunt as a rite of passage to “become a man.” One daughter quips that she’s even “leaving a girl and coming back a man.” To be fair, there are actually some humorously touching scenes as Hank, who fails to get a hunting permit before they are all sold out (wouldn’t happen in Texas) can’t initially take his son, Bobby. Upon witnessing all of the other kids coming home and showing off their bucks on the hoods of cars and trucks after opening day, Bobby cries, “Everything looks so Christmassy. Now I know how all the Jewish kids feel.” Meanwhile, the beer-chugging, conspiracy-minded exterminator Dale fulfills the obligatory redneck role of ignorant hunter. Even though he has hunted his whole life, he tells his friends that to get rid of suburban deer, you have to find the “queen deer and take her out.” Then, out in the woods, he tries using former Soviet radios to lead a military-style operation against the local deer herd.
The South Park Hunter
One of the most famous episodes of South Park -- which has made fun of and ultimately offended every group of people at one point or another -- features Stan’s Uncle Jimbo taking the boys hunting. Here, the hunter is portrayed as an ultra-conservative, I’ll-do-what-I-please man. To circumvent anti-hunting laws passed by “the Democrats,” Uncle Jimbo tells the boys they must yell, “It’s coming right for us,” before shooting anything in order to make every hunting situation a matter of self-defense -- even with deer and rabbits. Of course, most of the hunters are outfitted with tactical weapons, ironically more the norm now than it was when the episode first aired in 1997. Naturally, the producers couldn’t resist portraying hunters bent on killing everything to the point of waste with Uncle Jimbo starting the hunt by killing a “last-of-its-kind" Rocky Mountain black bear, and then using a rocket-launched grenade to blow a doe to bits. It made for funny, if not offensive to some and totally misleading to the ignorant, television.
The Regretful Hunter
Clint Eastwood has played some of the most badass characters in movie history, but in his real life, particularly his more recent years, he’s shown more of his liberal leanings and soft-hearted views. One of these was in the movie White Hunter Black Heart, where Eastwood plays a John Huston-like director in Africa to film a movie during the Golden Age of Hollywood. While there, Eastwood becomes bent on killing an elephant during safari -- to the point that the movie production suffers and he argues with one of his assistants, who is appalled by hunting. Here the movie turns down another Hollywood convention: the hunter who becomes enlightened and decides hunting is wrong. The message: If everybody evolved to the highly academic views of the Hollywood elite, we would all refute hunting as barbaric and just buy our steak tartare and braised pork at the store like them. Yeah right -- that makes a huge difference. It should come as no surprise the movie cost $24 million to make and only grossed $2 million. Even the Hollywood crowd wasn’t buying into it.
The Most Dangerous Game Hunter
The Most Dangerous Game, a short story written in 1924 and made into a movie that has been remade under various titles and story lines, is the attempt by Hollywood to put the hunter in the position of the hunted. The story centers on a rich guy, a hunter, winding up on a private island where an even richer guy, also a hunter, is so bored with hunting dumb animals that he hunts humans. The original story is actually pretty exciting, but over the years, Hollywood has mucked it up by using it as a tool to try to make hunters empathize with animals, unwilling to accept the basic differences and management ramifications between man and beast, as well as the honest compassion many hunters bring with them to the hunt.
The Deer Hunter Hunter
Despite its name, The Deer Hunter is more about the effects of 'Nam on the lives of soldier friends in a small Pennsylvania town than a hunting flick, but it’s such a classic, virtually everybody has seen it. The movie truly is a great one, with some of the most riveting scenes ever captured on film. Who can forget the Russian roulette scene in the Vietnamese prison camp? But when it came to the hunting scenes, it’s like, what the hell? I mean, how do you create such lifelike scenes of wartime horror halfway around the world and then just check out any sense of realism in how hunting takes place right here in the U.S.?
First, the hunting scenes are depicted as they are in too many B-movies, with the hunters sprinting after deer just haphazardly throwing shots at them and then dashing after them to shoot again. Have you ever tried to run after a whitetail to get a second shot, and up and over a mountain to boot? Not gonna happen. The movie is set in Pennsylvania, but the hunting scenes are clearly not eastern mountains and were in fact shot in Washington. And the weirdest of all: These guys would be hunting whitetail deer in Pennsylvania, but most of the deer look like red stags running around. One was the same animal later used in the Hartford commercials. What did some prop guy do? “Um, I need a whitetail, but anything with antlers will do.” He should be slapped. For anyone who appreciates realism in their filmography, the hunting scenes are a discredit to this otherwise epic movie.
The Deliverance Hunter
Who doesn’t know what “squeal like a pig” suggests? Deliverance, a movie about a group of dudes escaping to the deep wilderness to hunt only to be abducted and raped at gunpoint by some toothless, unbathed mountain weirdos, probably did more than 30 years of animal rights efforts to make some guys say, “Hell with that, I’m never going in the woods again!” At the same time, to those “unwashed” in the traditions of hunting, those backwoods cretins came to symbolize the backwoods hunter. In nearly 40 years of hunting, I’ve met some strange folks, some who hunt and many who don’t, but I’ve never come across the likes of those guys, and I pray to God I never do. Nor can I look at Ned Beatty the same way -- ever.