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Movie Review: "THE HUNGER GAMES"
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012
Updated: Friday, March 23, 2012 11:03
Let’s get this out of the way: I’m sure if you’ve read the books that “THE HUNGER GAMES” are based on, then this movie will work perfectly for you. The story of Katniss and Peeta, two teens selected to fight-to-the-death in a arena for the pleasure of rich people living in “The Capitol” seems to only please those who are previously familiar with the source material. But there’s something I really need to get off my chest: if you haven’t read the books, this movie makes absolutely no sense.
And it starts, really, with the title: these kids don’t look hungry. Director Gary Ross is much more interested in making his stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson sexy than he is in making his story coherent; so despite the fact that the point of the games is (seemingly) out-starving your competitors, we never once see these children in want of food. It’s just one of a million omissions that make sure anyone who hasn’t read Suzanne Collin’s young adult novel of the same name will be left scratching their heads as the credits roll.
I had a cornucopia of questions I had to ask friends who read the book before I even understood what happened in this 150 minute movie: what happens if the time limit on the battle runs out? They never tell us. What is the point of the sponsors, rich people who Katniss tries to impress for half the movie? I wouldn’t know, the only person who sends her help during the games themselves is her mentor (played by Woody Harrelson). How are the makers of the game conjuring monster-dogs out of thin air? Are they gods? I wouldn’t know, because Gary Ross’ film doesn’t tell me. It’s not made for me. It’s made for fans.
Seriously, I could go on-and-on. Is “The Capitol” a racist regime? If not, how come the only black actors in the entire movie are seen in ‘District 11’? And why does Peeta lead a number of people to Katniss with the intention of killing her, only to profess his love for her later? I ask these questions not to bore you or to incite defenses from fans, but to make a point: I imagine every single answer is imbedded within the books, and Ross/Collins (she wrote the screenplay as well as the novel) assume we have read them already. This is fanboy-filmmaking at it’s very worst – it’s exclusively for fans of the book. All others need not apply.
And somehow the constant incoherence isn’t even my biggest complaint about the movie. The violence can never live up to the promise of the plot – sure, you may think this is a movie about one kid killing 23 others to survive, but most die off-screen and the ones who do die in the frame are seen obscured with shaky cam and CGI blood that makes it literally impossible to tell who is expiring. It’s one cheap moment in a film that never feels anything but; we get one single wide-shot of the Capitol and no more (because, I assume, there wasn’t any room in the shoestring budget for expansive landscapes or believable settings.)
I won’t even start to criticize “HUNGER GAMES” for its similarity to “BATTLE ROYALE” (right down to the cheeky ‘instructional video’ sight gag,) if only because that horse was beaten dead a long time ago. And I won’t make fun of it for the blatant way it tries to create catchphrases (if you took a drink every time they say ‘May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor’ or ‘The Girl… on fire!’ then you’d be unconscious within an hour,) because it’s a young adult novel, and it’s all part of the territory.
If you’re already on board with these “GAMES”, most of these complaints are rendered moot. You can fill in the plot-holes by yourself, and you’ll appreciate the winking nods to the book. At one point, a newscaster played by Stanley Tucci turns to the camera and apologizes to viewers who didn’t understand the significance of a mutated bee Katniss drops on her enemies. He might as well have been apologizing for the entire movie. Because for the rest of us, the uninitiated, expect to be confused - you may want to consider obtaining some SparkNotes before you see this one.