Monday, April 09, 2012

Going Hungry

The Hunger Games is a young adult novel with a massive teen following. If you hadn't heard of it until the film hit theatres, it is because you are officially old. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but it is best that you get used to these things sooner rather than later.

Cards on the table. I have not read the book. Nor have I seen the Japanese film Battle Royale, with which The Hunger Games has drawn comparisons. Despite the protests of the author - Suzanne Collins says that she had not heard of Battle Royale until somebody else pointed out the similarities between it and her own novel - the shadow of Kinji Fukasaku's movie still hangs heavy over The Hunger Games.

The film tells the story of the unlikely named heroine Katniss Everdeen and her life in District 12 of Panem, a society in which children between the ages of 12 and 18 are offered up as Tribute to the Capitol to compete in the annual Hunger Games, a Running Man style fight to the death, televised nationwide. Katniss' life is changed forever when her very young sister's name is pulled from The Lottery and she volunteers to compete in her stead. This means a trip to the decadent Capitol, a place where Viviane Westwood inspired outfits, ham acting and very dodgy CGI meet, after which Katniss and her 23 competitors enter the arena.

First things first, the camera work is a problem. When Steven Spielberg innovated the shaky-cam style for Saving Private Ryan, it was an attempt to re-create a sense of the horrors of war and senseless death of the Normandy Landings. Since that time, the technique has been used as a shorthand by action movie directors attempting to borrow some of the visceral power of those sequences, minus the political context. The Hunger Games does this too excess. Early sequences recall scenes from the Extermination Camps in a way that is completely unearned and inappropriate for the movie. Then, once the action starts, it is almost impossible to follow.

As a whole, the tone is far too po-faced, given the lightness with which the films apparent subject matter is touched upon. There is a sense (and it is always tricky to apply a sense of moral agency to a film, but here goes) that the people involved in the making of The Hunger Games think that they are saying much more profound than they actually are. If one wants to take the idea of kids killing kids for sport while adults and parents watch on stupefied seriously, the film would need to much more bleak than it is - and even then I would suggest that no parent, regardless of their desperation would stand for it. Alternatively, the film might have been much more satirical and biting, Battle Royale is shot though with dark, violent humour - The Hunger Games is almost bereft humour.

Also, I'm not sure if I am allowed to say this - even the negative reviews I have read praised the performance of Jennifer Lawrence in the lead - but I found her sullen and one-note throughout. She does scared quite well (when she is about to enter the games), brooding and focused. But her line in tenderness and affection is much less convincing.

Some of the manipulations by the media, and the sense of the contestants being slotted into their predetermined role, regardless of character, was good. But I still can't get over that premise (or perhaps, its poor execution) - its ludicrous isn't it?


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