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