[Review] - The Hunger Games

I am not, generally, a fan of these massive media cross-over events. They follow a recognisable pattern: book comes out, is so poorly written or at least pedestrian and cliched enough as to appeal to a broad audience; producers buy movie rights; author churns out sequel/trilogy/spin-off; movie is rushed into production, hastily released; movie makes roughly the same as the GDP of Namibia; shower, rinse, repeat. Harry Potter did it. Twilight did it. DaVinci Code did it for adults. Percy Jackson stumbled, the list goes on.

Add to the list the Hunger Games, the Twilight step-down drug, thankfully getting teenagers away from uncomfortable corpse lust, and into the much more acceptable arena of state sponsored infanticide. I will state, right now, up front, I have not read the book series. So, going into this film, I was going in ignorant to the story, and the characters and the world. I was going into as a movie fan, and was viewing it solely as a movie.

As a movie, it is a failure.

To read the full, spoiler filled review, hit the jump.

I have a theory, which I might write more on later, which I call the Arrogant Presumption. Essentially, it is the presumption that viewers of a movie will be familiar enough with the subject to an extent that it is unnecessary to repeat this information on screen. The presence of the AP in the Hunger Games divides the reasoning behind my initial statement in two.

On one hand, because of the AP, vast chunks of the film are inaccessible to a new viewer. On the other, it is simply a poorly made film.

The most common complaint against the AP is that movies like this are being made for the fans, and that anyone seeing the movie would be a fan to begin with. This is fundamentally false, and a little insane. Films like this are never made for fans, they are made because they will make money. While, of course, the largest chunk of money will come from established fans, any director worth their pay check would recognise and understand that the film must stand on it's own, divorced from the origins, if it is expected to have an broad appeal. I write this now after the Hunger Games has spent four weeks at the top of the box office, so obviously, my arguments may seem a little deflated, but they are still true as to the integrity of the art form.

Characters dance before us for the entire film without introduction (Elizabeth Banks) or clear motivation (Wes Bentley) or purpose (Toby Jones). I suspected that that might have had to do with the book's author Suzanne Collins writing the screenplay, but two others had a hand in the writing as well, so that just makes it sloppy writing. One should never have to look up information on wikipedia after the movie to understand something that the film should have made explicit.

At first, I was impressed with the style of direction Gary Ross took, the film beginning in District 12 with out of focus shots, extreme closeups, and odd angles. Considering how 'tentpole' the movie was, I thought it was an eccentric and bold choice for a style. Then it disappeared. Kind of. I thought, perhaps he was intending to change the style of the film as the characters moved from one environment to another, but no. As the movie progressed, it seemed like he just forgot he was doing something original, and the camera became increasingly stationary. From time to time, it would hard zoom, or soft focus, like he had been poked in the arm and woken from a deep apathy.

The acting is suitable for the film, which is to say there is very little of it. The adults clearly are just there for the paycheck, Banks, and Stanley Tucci especially. Everyone is over the top, or obviously not trying. Toby Jones appears, but does nothing, and is the movie's biggest waste of talent, which is has a lot of in Donald Sutherland, who went the opposite direction Anthony Hopkins did in his similar role in Thor, going for understated. Since he has only one scene where he gets to say anything of importance, it really doesn't matter. Only Woody Harrelson tries to make the material he's given work, and when Woody Harrelson out acts Stanley Tucci, you know something is wrong. The younger actors fair better, given they have more sceen time, but less talent, and it's still rough. Try as she might, Jennifer Lawrence, like her performance in X-Men: First Class, just can't seem to imbue the words coming out of her mouth with anything genuine, coming off as a high-budget table read.

The biggest mark against the film it the general lack of creativity. Here is no originality on display here. It's a story told before, in Battle Royale, in The Running Man, in The Truman Show, the list goes on and on. You can tell exactly what will happen to a character as soon as they are introduced. All the children will die, except for the two that we are meant to care about. The little girl will befriend the protagonist, and die in a moment of forced dramatic impact, meant to play on the easily manipulated emotions of the largely teenage audience. Even though there is only one winner, there is no doubt that some deus ex will come along to save both of the characters we're meant to sympathise. Which it does, with a literal voice from above. A literal deus ex machina occurs, and not in an ironic way, and should illicit groans of displeasure from everyone with a high school diploma. We're never actually given a reason to sympathise with either of the survivours, though. Just because Katniss loves her sister, and her father died in a mine explosion doesn't make her any more important then the little dead girl, or the league of students trained specifically to win. It's just that her's in the only back story we're told, so we don't ahve a choice in the matter.

And how convenient that the Hunger Games is set in a forest, where we're shown a the start of the film, is where Katniss is most at home, because the movie also lacks subtly. It's almost as if her winning is a preconceived notion. Wouldn't it have been a better test of her skills, and a showcase of her worthiness to survive if she had been dropped into an environment she was unfamiliar with? Wouldn't her winning have had a greater emotional impact, a represented greater development as a character? Even the end, where both characters decide to kill themselves, and no one wins, lacked dramatic weight, because they are both obviously going to survive. The viewer is just waiting for the voice from the sky to reappear and stop them. That is the responsibility placed on the viewer by this film: the cinematic equivalent of waiting in line. You're just putting in the time, waiting for the end you can see coming.

The inconsistencies are the only thing worth watching, because they're the only things remotely interesting. The Game Master (another unanmed character) seems to struggle with killing the children on the president's orders, but is bouncing with glee when the Gate Keeper and Key Master from Ghostbusters are let loose on them at the end. Woody Harrelson is a degenerate drunk who only drinks in his establishing scene, and never again to excess for rest of the film. Only one child can win, but then two can, but then one can, but then two can. Question: is the Hunger Games arena a holodeck, or a real forest? The control over which the production office has, directing fires, falling trees, magicking up Gozer's minions suggests that it is a digital creation. But if that's true, how do the bees have venom? How are the berries poisonous? In this wild and crazy future, can holograms be imbued with characteristics as well as simple form? That is impressive.

I have a feeling that somewhere in this mess, there is a good idea, and I think I know where it is. They spend a lot of time before the games start taking about sponsorship, how the players must impress people, and those people will send them assistance through out the game. We see this happen only once, when Katniss is stuck up a tree, and she receives a balm. And that's it. Want to make a movie about the apathy of society, and the over commercialisation of media, while also working in a rather timely political allegory? Then focus on that story. Harrleson playing the lobbyist, trying to sell people on this girl. Have the games play out behind us, like we're the ones he's trying to sell. Have teams of lobbyists, playing off one another, fighting for support. Focus on his alcoholism, the fact that he detests his job and that by doing it, children die. That would have been Aaron Sorkin's Hunger Games, and it would have been a damned better idea.

Everything else falls short too. District 12 is the Depression mixed with a concentration camp. Thank goodness there are no ugly people, just kind-of-dirty people wearing old clothes. The capital (or District 1, or the Hunger Games city, again, was never told, so am not sure) is made of up people who thought The Fifth Element didn't take it far enough. Really, the costume designers clearly had too much time, and money, and not enough people saying "that is a terrible idea." I understand the idea of juxtaposition. I don't think Gary Ross understood the idea of restraint. The special effects are so tedious and banal they hardly warrant a mention, being the standard affair we see in every film now: not bad enough to distract, but not good enough to impress, which is actually a pretty good description of the movie as a whole.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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