Thursday, April 19, 2012

In Defense of...My Criticism of "The Hunger Games"

I do not own the above image.  For entertainment purposes only.  Copyright (c) Lionsgate Entertainment.  All Right Reserved.

Note #1: I would like to warn you or set everyone reading at ease, I have not read “The Hunger Games”.  I am on about line 100 on my Kindle.  From conversations I have had with those that have, I understand that a majority of my criticism is for the movie only and not specifically for the novel.

Note #2: I go in graphic detail about the final 15-20 minutes of the movie so…SPOILER ALERT!!!  If you haven’t seen it, stop reading, buy a ticket, watch it, then come back.  Then after reading, go see 21 Jump Street.  Seriously.

            Before I begin my lashing of Gary Ross’ adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games”, I just want to say that the first hour and a half or so are fantastic.  Ross, using Collins’ own script, is able to show a world and characters full of inequality but not total despair.  Jennifer Lawrence is her usual fantastic self as the heroine Katniss.  Ross showed wonderful attention to detail in his previous live-action films Pleasantville & Seabiscuit and he doesn’t fail here.  The total and complete opposite color schemes of the two completely different yet connected worlds are striking.
Best of all, though, is Ross’ subtle but completely effective and powerful sequence in the immediate prelude and beginning to the Games.  The scoreless sequence allows the audience to reflect on what has happened up to this point and allow the audience to make their own decision as to how to go about these Games and the dire consequences of bad decisions.  Unfortunately, that is where the relating to the characters ends.
From that point on, “The Hunger Games” slowly falters until it ends with a resounding thud.  A thud so loud I think to the bored people in the American Reunion showing heard loud and clear.  How Gary Ross, who helped us love spoiled kids thrown into a 1950’s TV show and three different Depression-era people & a horse, was unable to allow the audience care about a starving teenager and her secret admirer in a game played to the death is relatively simple.
The first problem is the inability to convey that the Games are nothing more than a twisted punishment by the Capitol on the twelve Districts instead of the television extravaganza that the second act perceives it to be.  Think about every time during the Games a scene takes place outside the arena.  There are three types of scenes: the President & the director talking, the director in the control room and Woody Harrelson negotiating with “sponsors”.  What is missing are shots of the audience.  All that is needed are a few scenes of recurring characters, just regular people like the bar patrons or security guards or the guy in the tub like in The Truman Show, just watching the Games and commenting or complaining about the lack of action.
The second problem is the rules to the Games.  I see that the Games over time have become the annual event for the Capitol and its uniquely dressed citizens and the government runs the whole operation.  But, why the rush to end the Games?  Who wants the Games to end a quickly as possible?  The audience?  Since we don’t see them whining and complaining at all, just let the Games continue.  You don’t need to create a super-panther, who kills the “4th place finisher” off-screen (who has one extraordinarily important role in one critical scene but is never seen in the flesh in almost every other shot of the movie) and can survive an arrow through the neck at point blank range.  And worse yet, they end the Games.
Which leads to my final issue: who is the true enemy of the story?  Is it the Capitol, who oppresses the Districts and commands them to sacrifice two young lives each for entertainment?  Or is it the kids from Districts 1, 2 or 4, who train for the Games and are the most formidable opponents?  Well, it appears to be the latter.  But then why are they not developed?  At all?  We see the final adversary early scowl or something at Peeta but then is given nothing to do until the end when he appears to beg for mercy before being fed to the super-panthers.  He is trained to win or at least survive but he wants out at the end?  This is where I feel character development is most severely lacking: the other 22 competitors are rarely heard from, except Rue of course.
In the end, The Hunger Games succeeds in giving girls someone who they can look up to without having to be stone-faced and emotionless and pathetic.  But what it also does is show what is wrong with Hollywood: bring out the big potential franchises, show a few moments of greatness or perceived greatness then phone the rest of it in.  But, at least with The Hunger Games, there are plenty of things to love, if you can remember them an hour or so later.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with two important elements here. First, it is not clear who the real enemy is at the end. Is it the kids from Districts 1, 2 or 4 or is the Capital? Neither is really developed. Second, I expected more of the people of the Capital to be shown in their decadence fueling the animosity. That said, I could see the point of leaving such a weird feel. I might lead to a different twist in the next film.