When I finished watching this movie, the first thing I did was go to a local diner to quickly get something to eat. Mentioning offhandedly while the waiter cleaned up a table for me, I told him that I’d just seen Hunger Games, and he asked me how it was. My response?
“This movie is a textbook definition of Good Intentions Gone Astray.”
The plot follows Kattniss Everdeen (I’m NOT spellchecking this), a young teenager who volunteers to participate in a Battle Royale-styled tournament hosted by the obligatory fascist/totalitarian government, where 24 teens are brought in to fight to the death, and only one is allowed to live. The execution of this tournament is then marketed as a reality TV show that placates the masses. Kat’s decision is motivated by the fact that, by lottery, her little sister was picked, and unable to stomach the thought of letting a 12-year-old girl participate in such a blood bath, she offers herself up as replacement.
So the movie is then split into 2 parts: The first is the sweeping digression involving how the games are presented to the public, and how the players are told to try to “play up” their characters to score points with sponsors. The second is the actual tournament itself, which is basically just one long scene where Kat barely survives against the odds.
There’s two things which are good in this movie: The Acting, and the overarching narrative. That last one is important, because if that were bad, I’d be ready to condemn the entire project. I’m not gonna speak too much about the acting, since there’s nothing spectacular about it; It’s good, the actors are all doing a good job.
The narrative is riddled with Cliche, but I don’t see that as a bad thing. If nothing else, the (very few) twists and turns are interesting, if very predictable. There’s a running side-plot that eventually spills over into the main plot involving the fact that Kat and the boy brought with her to the games (Peeta. Yeah. Seriously. Not Peter. Peeta.) are playing up that they might/are romantically involved, which is supposed to make the sponsors empathize. No prizes for guessing that their “fake” romance eventually morphs into “real” romance.
So that’s the good stuff. Acting is good, and Narrative is interesting, if maybe Cliche. And while we’re at it, I’m going to make one more praise for Kat being a genuinely strong female character, the likes of which has been absent from the societal sphere of influence ever since the Harry Potter series concluded.
And guess what? If all that stuff is present in the book, then consider me interested. I’ll probably check out the books once I have some spare time. And chances are, I’ll probably like them/consider them respectable material.
But none of that is enough to salvage this movie, and here’s why.
The movie has several critical flaws, which I’ll address one at a time. The first is the cinematography. I don’t know who they put in charge of filming this movie, but he needs to be fired immediately. The camera shakes as though the guy filming was being molested by Michael Bay. And it’s not just during action scenes either, where it might be excusable; Some of the most poignant moments of this movie are ruined because the camera can’t seem to figure out whether the mildly attractive actress is Kat, or if it’s a nearby wall ornament that we’re supposed to be paying attention to. Just simple scenes, where we see Kat talking to someone else, and the camera is busy looking everywhere BUT at the characters.
And the action scenes only compound the problem. I remember the first scene from when the games themselves began, and we see kid after kid getting killed off within a minute of the game beginning. Except we DON’T see it, because the camera is so blurry, and swerving all over the place.
I’m well aware WHY they did it, where they wanted to try to capture the brutality of the games. It doesn’t change the fact that if you really want to capture the brutality of these games, the best thing you can do is show us, the audience, exactly what is happening in excruciating detail. Their inability to rein in the cameraman meant that my immersion was shattered, because instead of paying attention to the story, I was paying attention to how much my eyes hurt from trying to follow Kat during even the quietest and most low-key moments of the movie.
The next big problem with this story is that it doesn’t even really feel like it has proper closure for the events that take place. We’re given glimpses into possible rebellions that take place as a result of Kat’s decisions (she takes care of a young girl that gets mortally wounded halfway through the games, and her act of kindness spurs on the people from that district to rain open contempt upon their oppressors), but nothing more than that. And for me, this is particularly bothersome because the movie already runs on pretty long, for all the stuff that happens, that it shouldn’t have been hard to have a proper send off for all the themes involving class struggles, and especially the dichotomy between the flamboyant rich upper class, and the lower class that are made to participate in these tournaments in the first place.
I mean, isn’t that supposed to be the main *point* of all this? Certainly there’s fun watching teenagers kill each other, but isn’t the real overarching theme supposed to be about how callous the audience is to the plights of these kids when presented as a reality TV show? Why does this theme basically get ignored once we reach the last act of the movie? I know it gets picked up again in later books, but it doesn’t change the fact that the story has concluded without really addressing these long-standing issues.
At the end of the day, though, the real point of this kind of story is supposed to be the characters. So here we have Kat, and Peeta, since he actually becomes pretty important by the end. So what have they learned? How has this experience changed them? Well, I can’t figure out what it is that they’ve learned. Is it that the Hunger Games are cruel and inhumane? Well, they kind of already knew that when the movie started. That was the whole reason Kat volunteered, because she would have rather died herself than let her sister die. Was Kat forced to grow and mature as a person? No, not really. She was already pretty tough and capable when the movie started.
And again, while I can appreciate that we don’t have enough female characters like her, it doesn’t help when you’re reminded that Kat already being pretty tough when the movie starts means the drama is sucked out of her struggles; Of COURSE she’s going to succeed. She’s motherfucking Katniss Everdeen!
What of the supporting cast? What supporting cast? You mean that nameless blob of rival tributes? We learn the name of maybe one of them, and she’s just a young girl we meet for all of 10 minutes before she gets killed off. We later see Kat crying over her death, but the audience hasn’t known her long enough to have any genuine engagement of pathos for her passing.
If it seems like I’m down on this movie, it’s only because there’s so many areas where this movie *could* have been much better, if made by smarter/more talented filmmakers. And it’s frustrating for me, because this is a franchise that could have actually had some modern-day relevance, and with some actual talent poured into the movie, it could have been a pop-culture classic. Instead, well…….. It just feels like a shadow of what could have been.