Saturday, 24 March 2012

Review: The Hunger Games (Spoilers)

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

The Hunger Games poster

The Hunger Games (Contains spoilers)
142 mins / Dir. Gary Ross

Welcome to Dystopia 101, where oppressive governments and manipulative game-shows are the order of the day. The bad guys wear uniforms with face visors, and the common folk wear colour-desaturated clothes. A disaster/war/event will be referenced and/or explained at some point, and 'Hey! Isn't this just a little bit like our lives NOW??!?
Sit wherever you like, I'll be round to scan your barcodes in due course…

The Plot: (from IMDB) "Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister's place for the latest match."

A Preface: No, I haven't read the books. And in all honesty, I'm not pretty likely to, now.

The Good: Given everything I'm about to say about The Hunger Games, I'll state now that it's decently enough scripted and acted. Everyone's doing their best with what they're given, and I do appreciate that. The effects are fairly good (with the possible exception of those dogs near the end) and apart from the shaky-cam, it looks and sounds as good as it can. It's just that...

The Bad: Well, it's 'the story', isn't it? Like a huge messy car crash between The Tripods and The Running Man with Predators picking through the wreckage, but with the intrigue or adrenaline of none of them. I know it's aimed at teenagers, but they're not stupid. In terms of content, they're actually more demanding than their adult contemporaries. They have plenty of stuff to do apart from reading books for leisure, so don't patronise them with this. The idea of The Hunger Games being orchestrated by The Evil Government™ as a method to both distract and control the populace is so heavily layered-on that you almost don't notice the clockwork plot setup and character archetypes. Almost.

• The wardrobe department seem to have been told to stick to 'hey, doesn't everyone look whacky in the future if they're rich??', in a move that will ironically date the film faster than putting "2012" in the title.

• Poor Katniss, pulled out of her meagre existence by a rash decision and forced to fight for her life against 23 other teenagers. She's not a murderer, you know! Well, she's quite happy to hunt for food, but that's different. At the start of the film, she's trying to bring down a deer that, by her own admission, she can't possibly hope to smuggle back home to prep/cook/eat. Look, she's fine killing harmless animals just trying to get on with their day, but the moment she's faced with 23 unstable, hormonally-charged teenagers (22 of which she doesn't know) coming at her with knives and spears, well that's just not bloody well on!

• Actually, I say '22', she doesn't really know her fellow Dictrict 12'er Peeta much, either. She's seen him around, and that, but it's only after he admits that he's been stalking her for about five years that she decides she can trust him, and that a relationship would probably be a good idea as long as one/both of them's probably going to die, anyway.

'Look, Katniss has climbed up a tree. Shall I shoot her out with this bow-and-arrow?' 'Go on, then…' [shoots] 'Tch, I missed. I suppose we'll just have to wait at the bottom of the tree for her to come down. I mean, it's not like I've got a bunch of arrows here, and any ones that miss her can just be picked up again and re-fired. No, let's ALL wait under this tree and go to sleep at the same time with no-one keeping watch. That is literally the most effective thing we can do.'

• Genetically engineered mutant killer wasps. Because, y'know, wasps aren't already bastards.

• The overall predicability (sorry, 'reliability') is overshadowed only by the film's inconsistency. It's established at the start of the tournament that a cannon is sounded when one of the contestants dies so that they know their numbers have been reduced wherever they are. This signalling continues regularly until Katniss destroys the booby-trapped supplies at The Cornucopia and the contestant who was 'guarding' it has his neck snapped by his irate team-mate (no cannon), followed shortly by young Rue being throwing-daggered to death by a competitor (no cannon), and Katniss arrow-ing that assailant in return (no cannon). Then about twenty minutes later, someone dies and the shots start again.

• Given that The Games are literally a life-or-death situation, and that the 24 competitors quickly divide into uneasy alliances and hunt as packs, Katniss seems to have no problem in sitting and having a cry for about twenty minutes immediately following Rue's death. She actually picks a bunch of flowers to lay on her body, while the team of The Bad Guys™ are furiously wandering around nearby after their booby-trapped supplies have just been destroyed.

• There's a bit near the end where genetically engineered/enhanced attack-dogs are released into the arena. These are shown in a holo/digital form in the control room first, and on the controllers command they magically 'appear' and start pursuing the remaining contestants. Now I didn't see a hole in the ground where they came out of, and they were summoned in exactly the right place at an instant. This, coupled with the slightly dodgy animation of the dogs, made me wonder 'Is this a simulation? Will all of the contestants 'die', and we only find out afterwards that their Matrix-like trials in the dome have been the digitally recreated source of the TV-show all along and no-one's really been killed?' That would be a nice plot development...
… No, apparently not. Well, it wasn't revealed in this film, anyway. So it looks like we won't be genetically engineering dogs until we can make them look slightly badly animated as well.

• At one point, we see the inhabitants of District 11 watching the action unfold on giant communal TV screens. They are so moved and touched by Katniss' bravery and moral fortitude, that they begin to riot, attacking the governmental guards that watch over them. And, you know, destroying / burning down their own homes in the process. Yeah, that'll show 'em.

• The contestants are baited with the dual-winners line by the games' creators, whereby rather than have a 'last man standing', a duo can win if they're from the same district (a device to get Katniss and Peeta working together), it's no surprise when this alteration is later rescinded (a device to get them to face-off after gaining each other's full trust). When they refuse to fight and are about to commit to a suicide pact, the gamesmasters reluctantly declare them both the winners, and we see that Donald Sutherland™ isn't at all pleased with this turn of events. But surely, any Evil Media Company / Government worth its salt would just have one of the winners discretely killed, then tell the public they died of an infected wound or something? Pardon? You don't want to burden the many unlikeable characters in the film with any common-sense actions or motives? Oh, it's a Cert 12A. 'Demographics'. I see.

• I've heard it said that a lot of the book-content has been cut for the movie. I don't know how many of the books are spanned in this two and a half hour Running-Man-Lite™, but I'm going to assume that Haymitch's backstory (As a mentor, he evidently knows a lot about The Games, and is clearly drinking to block something out, although this facet dwindles to nothing as soon as The Games begin) was a casualty of those cuts. I'm also going to assume that Effie's complete absence once the games are underway (and from the admittedly rushed ending) is also due to time restraints. Otherwise, that'd just be poor storytelling…

The Ugly: What the bloody hell have you done with Elizabeth Banks, Lionsgate? If you're telling me that in the future, all the hot women have to look like Vivienne Westwood, you can tear my card up right fucking now.

All-in-all: Oh look, it's probably not as bad as all that, but there's very little in The Hunger Games for me, and I'd be surprised if there is for you, either. There's a decent movie in there somewhere, but it's being weighed down with cliché and my firmly unsuspended disbelief.


Ideal if you're very young, or haven't seen many films.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. This is a colorful and entertaining film, and I was constantly wrapped up in it as a drama. It isn’t the kind of bombastic event we usually get as a franchise blockbuster and for that I’m thankful. It also helps that the ensemble cast is nothing short of amazing either, and that Jennifer Lawrence’s career will hopefully totally hit super-start status after this because she’s great as well. Check out my review when you can.