02 April 2012

Ready, Aim, Yawn

Unpopular opinion alert: I kind of hated Hunger Games the movie. Yes, I know, it's almost sacrilegious to say amidst all the wonderful reviews and the excitement about it breaking records and pushing the franchise to new heights. But the thing is, the film kind of bored me. After waiting a whole week to get my Hunger Games on, I was shocked when about an hour and a half into it, I looked over at my sister and we both gave each other the "what is going on here" alarmed look. Even when the action finally picked up as Katniss fought for survival, I found myself wishing for so much more. It wasn't even about the typical book to movie translation stuff, this was just a bad movie, period.

For one, I hated the camera work. While initially the tight shots and languishing but controlled pacing drew me in, when there proved to be nothing else in director Gary Ross' bag of tricks, I mainly just got angry at him for going semi-artsy fartsy with the whole thing. I don't need fifty shots of Jennifer Lawrence staring intently. (Coming from a big Jennifer Lawrence fan, that's saying something.) Yes, Katniss is supposed to be stoic and unreadable but this was taking it a bit too far.

What I realized while watching
Hunger Games is that most of the compelling conflicts exist inside Katniss' head, and movies have an admittedly hard time conveying that. Cool, I'll let that slide. But maybe move the scene along and use the side characters more. You know, those wonderful ancillary characters who did such a great job pulling Katniss out of her shell in the novel but were each severely underutilized in the movie. Haymitch had an amusing moment or two before being ushered off, Cinna wasn't even in the movie, and after hearing about how Elizabeth Banks stole every scene as Effie, I think it's accurate if faint praise. Effie Trinket was the only character allowed to have a spark of life on-screen, so of course she stood out. Related note: Stanley Tucci, I can't handle you anymore. Let Hunger Games serve as our official two and a half hour breakup letter.

Issue number two: If you haven't read The Hunger Games, do you have any idea what's going on? I mean, besides the basics of "children are thrown into a fight to the death for entertainment," do you get any of the characters' motivations, connections, or actions? Without knowledge of the book, I would think the entire interaction between the characters (and Panem in general) was entirely lost. Why is Peeta so willing to sacrifice everything? What is Katniss' relationship to Gale? What are all these people rebelling against? Where/who are these handy first aid parachutes coming from?

Any broader commentary -- or satire -- Hunger Games might have had on society at large was also completely wiped away. It's possible to flesh some of these deeper issues out using the language of film, it really is. Even in blockbusters, I've seen it happen. Having said that, my friends who didn't read the book seemed to have enjoyed the movie much more than I did. So maybe not knowing what they missed out on was better.

Let's talk about the action. Oh wait, there was none. For a movie whose main appeal is the actual Hunger Games, there weren't many thrilling bits. Even the training was disappointing. What's the best part of Rocky? The training montage and the boxing matches. I didn't need "Eye of the Tiger" and Katniss running up some stairs exactly but give me a cool scene that actually took my breath away or showed me that Katniss was a force to be reckoned with. Is that too much to ask?

As it stands, the most exciting part of Katniss kicking ass was her (mis-)firing a few arrows. In lieu of direct action, it would have been acceptable to highlight how clever and savvy Katniss was. We didn't get much of that either. Also, Ross kills me again with his camera work. I concede that they couldn't show kids slaughtering each other in order to preserve a PG-13 rating but Ross' jumpy action shots were nauseating.

Mostly what we got was a whole lot of speeches and Q&A sessions. "Haymitch, how do we survive? Please just tell us, don't bother showing us via any training scenes. I'd much prefer a thrilling conversation over breakfast. Aaaah, eggs!" "Tell me Katniss, how did you feel? No, really, tell me how you felt." "And President Snow, could you proclaim something else? We need you to provide exposition. Oh alright, you do it Seneca." Half the movie was a boring political rally slash beauty pageant. With some bad costuming no less.

Okay I could go on but I'll spare you. I think Hunger Games missed the mark by way too much, even though I was grading on a heavy curve. Maybe the movie I was hoping to see was just too different. I wanted something with a bit of fun, even though the setting and subject matter was a dystopian society where children are forced to kill one other.

I realized as the credits rolled that this version of The Hunger Games was really a B-movie with high production values. That's it. The emotional depth was lacking to make it a movie you cared about, the action was lacking to make it an enjoyable romp, the everything was missing from a torpid adaptation that looked the part but failed to entertain me in just about every way.

Will I be back for Catching Fire? Of course! But when we had to immediately movie hop Wrath of the Titans just to wash the disappointed stench of Hunger Games off our minds, that really says something. Wrath of the Titans as cinematic highlight and panacea -- a new life low.

Something I did enjoy: Wes Bentley, with extra points for his curlicue beard. It doesn't seem like he's aged much since American Beauty and I'm ready for more Wes in my life. We already know his character is gone in the next movie so he can't be too busy. Somebody hire him immediately. Those icy blue eyes would make a fine (and ultimately likeable) serial killer or dark superhero or something.

Also, although I objected to Josh Hutcherson as Peeta because he seemed so lame in photos next to Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth, I actually liked him much more in the actual movie. Lesson learned: Don't judge a competing love interest by his height. I should have trusted Hutcherson's past work; shout out to Bridge to Terabithia. Still Team Gale for me though.