hungry for more


March 27, 2012 by jooshanoosh

I saw the new Hunger Games movie the old fashioned way: I snuck in. A buddy and I went to see a different movie, and as it let out we saw hundreds of spotty teens hooting and awkwardly shuffling into every other screen in the theater. So we just followed them all in. Our seats were decent. A little too close to the screen, a little far to the left, and too near a young lady who cried at every part. Every part! Even dumb parts! Of which I felt there were many.

I know I’m in the minority here, but I was completely underwhelmed by The Hunger Games. Maybe underwhelmed is too much; maybe I was just whelmed. And I also get that I’m not the target audience here, and never was. Maybe I needed an ironic t-shirt and a stronger knowledge of Katy Perry to really grasp the “emotion” of this movie. But overall I felt it was pretty cold. Icy. As frigid as Satan’s teet. I felt literally nothing, except shaky cam disease.

I fully admit that I’m a movie snob. There! I beat you to it! Don’t comment and tell me how you go to movies for “entertainment” or to “forget your problems” or just for “fun!” I do none of these things. I go to movies to pull them apart and ask questions and make-out with my wife. If I can’t digest a movie, if I can’t get into a little bit of a fight about it, I feel cheated. This is why I flew the proud banner of The Tree of Life last year, a movie that most of my friends uniformly hated. That movie grabbed me by the hoo-ha’s and never let up. Yes, it was slow. Yes, it was visual. No, not everything made sense. But dammit, someone was saying something! Someone was taking a risk.

Gary Ross, director of The Hunger Games, decided to make the safest, most workmanlike interpretation possible, and congrats to him! This movie will make him one bajillion dollars. What it doesn’t make, unfortunately, is a significant contribution to the world of book adaptations. I felt like he had a copy of the novel on hand to make sure that he never deviated from the primary source – his choices were so slavish and unimaginative. People fought! Then they died! Then the camera bounced around! Then Katniss got mad and cried in slow motion! I didn’t mind the lack of Vox back stories, or the origin of the Mockingjay pin, any possible explanation of who Effie Trinket was, or the fact that Cinna, the most interesting character in the book, consisted of gold eyeliner and six lines of dialogue.

What I missed was the danger! Remember the book? Children were literally killing each other! It was bloody and visceral and disturbing. And none of that was in the movie. I get it; we needed the PG-13 rating. So Ross put every violent act into a chaotic series of camera jerks, and in the end we don’t know who lives or who dies. In fact we don’t care, since the movie never takes the time to introduce us to anybody. There’s a major character who dies halfway through the story, which is incredibly poignant and unexpected in the novel. When it happens in the movie, you sort of wonder who this person is. You never really saw her before. Oh, you think. That’s a bummer. She seemed cool. But then again, I’m likely dead inside. The teen next to me was a veritable bathtub of sobs. Why didn’t I feel anything? Why did I want to sneak over and see 21 Jump Street? Why didn’t I?

It’s not a bad movie. I can see why people like it. It is incredibly faithful to the novel. I think Jennifer Lawrence did a nice job with an arc-less character. She mostly needed to run around in snazzy leather jackets and wear lip gloss and act all grouchy. Whenever she or any of the actors needed to cry there was always someone on set with a squeeze bottle of glycerin tears. But I just wanted more style. I wanted more visual risks. I wanted to feel danger and fear and paranoia. And wasp stings that make you black out for days. And loss and exhilaration and love. I remember finishing the first Hunger Games book in Paris last summer and visualizing a dystopian world of cotton candy decadence and eye popping gluttony. I understand why Ross wanted to drain District 12 of all of its color, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that, despite the wigs and the costumes and the makeup, he drained the Capitol of its color as well. Someone needs to take some lessons in color from Tim Burton or Jean-Pierre Jeunet (yep! That’s two condescending French references in one paragraph.)

So, there it is. My two cents. I realize nobody cares. Lisa insists that I was probably just tired when I saw it. Maybe I was, but I don’t remember that. Maybe I was annoyed at seeing the movie with all those plump little sobbing teens. Maybe the projector was having problems? I can always blame the projector. Or maybe this was an instance where a director played it safe, and one little audience member in one little western state was hoping he’d play it a little more hungry, and a lot more dangerous.

18 thoughts on “hungry for more

  1. faungon says:

    Thanks, Chris. Love the review. I still want to see it, although I can't imagine it being anywhere as amazing as I found the book to be. Love to read your writing.

  2. faungon says:

    Oh my gosh. I put faungon, instead of faunbon. I don't know how to fix the damn thing, either. Guess I have a new userid… This is Fauneil, of course.

  3. kelly says:

    I wanted to love this movie. I did. But, sadly, I agree with everything you said. Except for those French film references. Those went right over my head.

  4. You only missed one important point: The people who bought the movie rights and made the movie did it for one reason only, and that was to make money. I don't think they had "art" on the brain when they did it. Their formula was simple: 1. Make it as absolutely close to the book's storyline as possible so they didn't piss off the lovers of the book. In this way they could ensure that the book lovers would recommend the movie with high marks to everyone and anyone who would listen. 2. Keep it under 2.5 hours. 3. Keep it within the PG 13 rating or else all money making would be out the window. It was probably as good a movie as they could have made under these necessary money-making parameters. I think it is highly unlikely that a "perfect" movie can be made from any book that is so widely adored by teen fans. If you want truly good art at the cinema, you had best not go looking for it at the adaptation of a teen bestselling novel.

  5. topher clark says:

    Yep. I totally get that, Suzie. But I can't shake my memory of two or three really beautiful and thoughtful Harry Potter movies.

  6. Hailey says:

    I'm going to disagree with you, Chris, because that's what you want, right? A fight? πŸ™‚ I, for one, was glad that Ross didn't glorify/glamorize all the violence in the book, because if he would have, if we were all sitting there as an audience, hungry to see the blood of children spilt every five seconds, then wouldn't that make us just like the people in the Capitol? He made the right choice and was true to the author's point, I thought. I enjoyed it and I'm with Lisa, Mr. Grouchy Pants. Let us simpletons have our fun.

  7. Sally Bell says:

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. NicholeStull says:

    Hailey, I'm with you. However, Chris, I surprisingly agreed with a couple of your points (I did not expect to given that I really did love the movie). The Capitol was lacking something in it's bizarre and gluttonous way of life, even though I think Stanley Tucci came close to it. I loved Cinna and I thought Gale was also great and I wish there had been more of both, which means I'm definitely looking forward to the next movie. Mostly, I think it would have been impossible to give us the more we were looking for in character development without significantly changing the storyline or the length of the movie. I really did love this film quite a bit though and I'm excited to go see it again.

  9. topher clark says:

    You're not a simpleton, Hailey. After all, you liked Tree of Life! I'm not sure I needed to see dead children. I just wanted to care about the children before they died. I wanted to feel like they mattered. I wanted to be scared for them.

  10. Awe, this makes me miss picking movies apart. Haven't seen this one yet, but it's probably about what I thought it'd be. It wasn't made to be art, it was made to give us a pictorial representation of the art that was "The Hunger Games."

  11. Josh says:

    I am so jealous that you got to go see not one, but two movies.

  12. dalene says:

    I haven't seen it yet, but I don't believe I will like the movie as much as the book(s) if it doesn't make me feel somewhat guilty about watching it in the same way I felt somewhat guilty about not putting the book(s) down.

  13. La Yen says:

    Clearly the reason you are not in a stake presidency has to do with your stealing from the movie theater. On behalf of your wife, I encourage you to keep that up.

  14. Christian F says:

    This post makes me feel like a grumpy old man. One who shakes his fist at people who sneak into movies. I just can't get past the image of two displaced teenagers who probably waited in line to see this movie on opening night. Their seats are filled by two middle aged men who don't even like the movie that the displaced teens would have loved — shaky cam, glycerin tears, and all. See? I'm old and grumpy.

  15. Makes me want to read the books now.

  16. AJ Biedel says:

    I haven't seen it. I can't handle anything nowadays. I FOR SURE couldn't handle it if it was "done right". David Edelstein from NPR had to say, "If the film's director, Gary Ross, has any qualms about kids killing kids, he keeps them to himself. The murders on screen are fast and largely pain-free β€” you can hardly see who's killing who. So despite the high body count, the rating is PG-13.Think about it: You make killing vivid and upsetting and get an R. You take the sting out of it, and kids are allowed into the theater. The ratings board has it backward." He ends his review by calling the filmmakers "moral cowards". Ouch!

  17. gl says:

    I liked the film but, didn't love it and I certainly am not interested in watching it again. My problem with it was I was never surprised and never engaged. I felt the same way about the first two or three Harry Potter movies. I read the books so I knew what was going to happen structurally. I still wanted a new experience that only a movie could bring and I didn't get it.

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