Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Drama Starved - "The Hunger Games" Review

Earlier this year there was a moment in time that might be regarded as quite possibly the lowest point that contemporary television has ever sunk in order to gain viewers. The exact moment took place during an episode of Fear Factor wherein contestants where challenged to dive deep into a vat of cow's blood to retrieve, with their mouths, a collection of cow's hearts that could then be passed to their partners' mouths and then spat into a smaller container. Yet, no matter how incredibly tasteless and disgusting this program was it unfortunately doesn't stand out amongst what has become a sea of appalling and culture-warping programming that appears on American television sets in an hourly fashion.

Gary Ross's film adaptation of Suzanne Collins's popular novel The Hunger Games features an even more disquieting world wherein children are selected by a totalitarian government, run by an aristocratic and distant capitol city, to fight each other to the death in a giant televised arena. Like any good science fiction story, The Hunger Games attempts to present a not-so-unfamiliar world that is just unbelievable enough to remove it from reality while still allowing its audience to utilize it as a cultural mirror back onto their own lives.

The biggest problem with The Hunger Games, its lazy storytelling, is present in its source material, Suzanne Collins's book, and is slightly mitigated by the novel's first-person narrative. However with no way to access the thought process of the main protagonist of The Hunger Games, the tenacious Katniss Everdeen, this lazy storytelling becomes unavoidable and inexcusable.

The greatest horror in The Hunger Games should be of the terrifying situation that all of these children have found themselves in. Each one of them has to ask themselves the question, "Am I willing to kill to survive?" Yet, for most of these children that question is easily and almost instantly answered with a monstrous efficiency. It is almost solely in the film's heroine that we see a character struggling with the difficulty of this question of survival.

Yet, every time that Katniss approaches the possibility of having to deal with her own demise or the necessity to kill to survive the writers create a way for the character to avoid having to confront this challenge. This becomes particularly frustrating in the final act of The Hunger Games where the rules of the world become looser and looser and creatures and characters are seemingly invented out of nowhere just to avoid difficult character moments and toss in a few more plot twists.

This type of storytelling undermines the entire satire that The Hunger Games is trying to portray. Instead of witnessing the horror of the beloved heroine's decisions, the audience is meant to enjoy the roller-coaster ride of her attempts to become the victor of these games, despite the horrible toll involved. In doing so it places the audience at a level that is just as despicable as the very people, who appear as the tall versions of the munchkins, who have forced these children to battle in the first place.

This lazy storytelling isn't done any favors by Gary Ross's filmmaking, particularly his control of the camera. The camera seems to be acting as a sort of defibrillator to the corpse that is this film by swinging around rapidly for almost no reason at all. This is particularly apparent in the opening of the film, a moment where visual clarity could have helped to establish the world of The Hunger Games. On top of this scattered and jumbled visual style is a hyperactive editing technique that ensures that every second of the film is confusing and disorienting. Flashbacks weave in and out of the tale with no explanation provided, serving only to titillate fans of the novel.

The film's actual visuals are also inelegant and unimpressive. Moments that are meant to induce awe, as expressed by the characters in the film, never quite rise to that level. When the film does rely on computer generated effects they range in quality from dated to downright unfinished. This gives the film a cheap and unimaginative feel, a strange sight for a blockbuster of this magnitude.

As soon as the reality of the film becomes even slightly questionable it opens up the film to a multitude of concerns about the structure of its setting. For example, Katniss comes from a district whose main focus is coal mining and yet at the same time they have hovertrains, spaceships, and other sophisticated technology that would never rely on coal.

The sole heart of the film comes in the character of Katniss. It is easy to understand why so many people, especially young women, can identify with this strong-willed and resourceful girl who is coming to terms with her physicality and sexuality as both her weaknesses and weapons. Jennifer Lawrence is perfectly cast in her role as Katniss, although possibly too beautiful, and easily commands her calm and grace both on and off the battlefield. Jennifer is able to take mediocre dialogue and writing and give it a unique soul that is bound to connect with audiences.

The Hunger Games isn't an offensive or terrible film, like its peers Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or Twilight. It is just rather forgettable, which is saying a lot about a film where children fight each other to the death. Instead its just another roller-coaster ride with a clever premise that never elicits the emotional response that this subject matter should. Almost every moment of the film feels as if the filmmaker is marking off that moment from a giant checklist from the book, relying on the audience to have already developed an emotional investment with its characters from the books.  It might be a film full of sound and fury but, as the saying goes, it signifies nothing.

2 / 4 Reels



1 comment:

  1. Maybe The Hunger Games is going to be the one young adult franchise that really lives up to the hype. Thankfully, it’s no Twilight- meaning that future installments will actually be something to look forward to and there won’t be any mopey romance angles. Fancy that! Good review Dan.