THE HUNGER GAMES: Battle Royale With Cheese

24 03 2012

I’m so sick of people telling me I have to read Suzanne Collins’ THE HUNGER GAMES, and no, it’s not because I hang out with a lot of twelve year-olds, though I admittedly do, in a treehouse. Here is a young adult literary franchise that seems to have crossed over and made fans of non-young adults, even very non-young adults. And to hear them give me the hard sell, you’d think the thing were Dianetics or something. (Hail Xenu, BTW.) Ever since this phenomenon began, I’ve consistently said one thing: ‘leave me alone, I’ll see the movie,’ and ever a blogger of my word, opening night I ventured out to see THE HUNGER GAMES directed by Gary Ross. I sat through it beginning to end, didn’t get up to pee or fall asleep, and no, I’m sorry to report, Hunger-heads, this film didn’t inspire me to go back and devour the novels. Though I did come home and drunkenly Wikipedia the synopses of the sequels, which means technically, I can say I’ve read the whole series. So check mate, pre-adolescents.

The first thing to say about Ross’s HUNGER GAMES is, the handheld camera moves and shakes fucking non-stop. The second thing to say is, practically every foot of film is excessively cut, so that the consistency of this adventure is straight mush on an aesthetic level. Apparently this is done to convey some sense of subjective realism, but instead it’s just nausea-inducing. Nothing looks good here. The production design consists of a single idea, borne out to the power of ugly. Ross & Co. create in color a contrast between the rural industrial life of the oppressed, and the literally colorful excess of the elite. Translation: on top of shaking and chopping his film into artless pulp, Ross is also assaulting you with the most garish costumes and sets since LOGAN’S RUN. (This is a film that appears destined to age about as well as that one…)

Stanley Tucci (left), seen here chewing the Tyvek and styrofoam scenery

More than likely though, the limitations here aren’t just Ross’s as a director, but also those of the production budget, which judging by the overhead CG shots of the ‘Panem’ capitol city, was on par with a SyFy Channel original… Not to mention the limitations of an MPAA PG-13 rating that must be upheld over all so that children who read the book can actually see the film. That’s all well and good, and I’m not filled with blood lust or anything, really I’m not. But I would have liked our protagonist Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) to have to reckon with her own violence in the end. In one way or another, every time she kills, it’s always by at least one degree of removal. She kills, but technically, doesn’t, and so goes through the story morally blameless – which is fine for kids, sure, but it may be boring for grown-up’s. And I guess I’m one of those now. (Shit.)

Instead of our heroine confronting her brutality, we get a climactic mea culpa from some other teenager named Cato (Alexander Ludwig,) a villainous twerp who, facing death, starts blabbering like Stallone in the end of FIRST BLOOD. Poor Cato isn’t the only casualty of a choppy, sloppy adaptation. Supporting players Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Wes Bentley all come off as one-dimensional caricatures, some veering into high camp, others not. Yeah yeah, I’m sure they were better in the book, but here they’re under-served. What exactly is Lenny Kravitz’s character Cinna meant to be? The ‘Kindhearted Stylist with No Other Discernible Personality Traits’? How compelling. Ironically, Kravitz, who came to pop prominence because his hair was more interesting than his music, is basically the one actor here without an absolutely ridiculous wig.

Friends, countrymen, I was paid $400,000 for three days of shooting.

Apart from giving short shrift to characters, the screenplay also glosses over seemingly significant story points. Example: Katniss’s home team ally Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is seen at one point early in the games forming an alliance with Cato against Katniss, yet when Peeta and Katniss meet up later, she gladly saves his life and his betrayal is never discussed. Never! At the end, they’re even in love. Seriously. Nonsense. And let’s not even try to parse the conundrum that is the physical universe of the games themselves. How is it that these kids are all battle royale’ing inside a domed forest where giant fireballs and monster (ZOOL) dogs can be digitally manifested and flung at them with the touch of game-master Wes Bentley’s button? Maybe I’m mistaken, but I thought matter can’t be created or destroyed? Or do the rules of Y.A. lit supercede the rules of Newtonian physics? Again, there’s probably a smart explanation of the mechanics behind the games in Suzanne Collins’ book, but I haven’t read the book, so the film failed me as an outsider.

Maybe it’s the rush to market or the schizophrenia inherent in making a children’s movie dark and edgy, but there’s a slipshod approach to THE HUNGER GAMES that runs through its every element: the incomplete scripting, the unappealing design, the one-note performances. Admitting that, it also seems clear that a more elegant handling of this source material by a different director might have made me care. So, pre-teen treehouse pals, I suppose I can see the appeal, but for now I’ll just sit back and watch you all chow down, ‘cause I sure ain’t hungry for more.

I’ll stick with TWILIGHT.

THE HUNGER GAMES

Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood

Friday March 23, 5:30pm showing

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5 responses

25 03 2012
KBV

Hi Greg!

The husband (also a movie reviewer) wants to know if you like Paul Greengrass movies? I guess they sound like they might be a similar style? We haven’t seen Hunger Games yet…I did like the books.

25 03 2012
Greg Yolen

Hi KBV,

Ross’s shaky-cam makes Greengrass look like freakin’ Kurosawa in THE HUNGER GAMES. Handheld camerawork can definitely be extremely effective in creating subjective, emotional scenes, as it is in some of Greengrass’s best (like UNITED 93,) but in a film so devoid of emotion as this one, its over-use just feels like papering over cracks, wandering and zooming around to obscure the fact that the scene after scene is so insubstantial.

In all sincerity, if you do see the movie, don’t sit too close to the screen.

Thanks for reading and commenting!

27 03 2012
Molly Ryan Negus

This is exactly how I felt about the movie. Disappointing! The books are much better.

16 04 2012
KBV

I watched United 93 again the other day-obviously I know what’s going to happen, unfortunately, but it still stresses me out! That’s the sign of a good movie. But I kind of got that from Hunger Games too, although not to that level of course. When she is going through the tunnel to the Hunger Games you could see her physcally shaking and it got to me…really.

I do totally get what you’re saying about it though-especially the overuse of the shaky cam at the beginning but overall I liked it. And yeah, you should really read the books! ( :

21 04 2012
Angie Holland Gross

Finally! Someone who understands my plight! I’m so tired of people tryingto force THG down my throat. Just because I am a fan of Twilight does not mean I have to like the Hunger Games. It’s not my thing. I love you Mr. Yolen. Team Jack all the way!

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