Sunday, 25 March 2012
The Hunger Games
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz
By Alan Bacchus
I knew two things about this film before going in: One, that it's the story of a group of teenagers thrown together in a forest-arena of sorts to fight out some kind of battle to the death; and two, that it originated from a series of books aimed at young adults. And assuming the target audience for the film would be those same young people, something just didn't add up. How do you tell a story about such a sick and twisted blood sport which inexorably leads to everyone dying and not have it violent, grisly bloody and thus rated R?
Simple, you cheat the audience, and deliver a syropy and soft ultra light version of Battle Royale, the monumentally superior version of this story made in Japan in 2001.
The opening is especially clunky, establishing the near future and dystopian world where a 'Pan American' state, post WWIII, is divided into 12 districts policed in part by the aforementioned annual spectacle of death called The Hunger Games. The visual design of this world is dull and unimpressive, combining the rural future landscape of say, The Postman, where technology is only in the hands of the elite, and the garish pop art world of Speed Racer, wherein the Games organizers strut around in renaissance style coloured wigs and caked on makeup.
The set up involves showing how a boy and girl are chosen from each state to compete in the games to the death. Naturally, there's immense fear and trepidation from all those who qualify. We know Jennifer Lawrence's character Katniss Everdeen will get chosen (well, kind of), but it's the male choice, Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) a character we don't know that allows the gravitas of the situation to set in. Unfortunately this fear is gradually wittled away as the film moves along.
A high concept like this requires bullet proof plotting and character motivations in order suspend our disbelief. If this can't be achieved filmmakers have a couple other options at their disposal. Tone, specifically humour, allows us to glance passed illogical plotholes. Most of the comparable films made in this genre are satircal. Battle Royale, for sure, had a sharp acerbic wit, Death Race 2000 had similar political overtones but under the guise of a shameless b-movie. The Truman Show figures prominently in the mix as well, but which had a very direct and effective statement on reality television and voyeurism. The Hunger Games does not appear to allude to anything, or have any kind of message. We're simply asked to accept this world as reality without question. A world where civilization has devolved to such a bloodthirsty state that the population at large would not only allow this to happen but cheer it on. I didn't buy it for a second.
That said, I don't disapprove of spilling the blood of minors for the sake of entertainment. Indeed this is what I wanted to see, but was willing to accept an alternative if there was some kind of intellectually superior substitute. Nope, it turns out to be a love story, setting up a Twilight-like love triangle in the ensuring films.
Blood or not, we don't even get to see some cool action. Gary Ross's abysmally directed action scenes are shot with that generic 'television-style' shaky camera where you don't really see anything. Thus, no panache, no flair, no excitement, avoiding bloodshed at costs which is most likely the reason for the annoying camerawork. Of course, this goes back to the audience, young adults, the Twilight audience who can't pay to see R-rated movies. There's nothing wrong with that, but it just makes Ross' job more challenging - something he sadly fails at.
Another shameful creative decision was to portray the other kids in the Games as 'evil', violent baddies who revel in the sport, as opposed to the innocent youth, simply chosen at random by the state. We don't get to know any of the other contestants, other than their black and white characterizations.
The only thing to praise in this film is the section after the participants are chosen and before they are put into the arena. It's this 'training period' where we meet Katniss and Peeta's mentor, played by Lenny Kravitz and Woody Harrelson who engage the pair with genuine affection, forming the strongest relationships in the film. Unfortunately, I think we have to wait until parts 2 and 3 before we see how these relationships play out.