On second viewing my issues with this film still remain. It's a pillowy soft treatment of dark, grisly and wholly disturbing subject matter. 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 with grisly bloody and thus rated R, or at least address the sadistic nature of the society in which this film occurs? With the exception of a couple of decent performances from Lenny Kravitz and Woody Harrelson, this film fails.
The Hunger Games (2012) dir. Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz
By Alan Bacchus
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 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 whittled away as the film moves along.
A high concept like this requires bulletproof plotting and character motivations in order to suspend our disbelief. If this can't be achieved the filmmakers have a couple of other options at their disposal. Tone, specifically humour, allows us to glance past illogical plot holes. Most of the comparable films made in this genre are satirical. Battle Royale, for sure, had a sharp acerbic wit and 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 that film 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. It's 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 I 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 ensuing 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, there is no panache, no flair, no excitement and he avoids bloodshed at all 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's job more challenging - something at which he sadly fails.
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 mentors, 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.
The Hunger Games is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Alliance Films in Canada.