Friday, March 23, 2012

Hunger Games Movie Review


Before I review the Hunger Games, let me make a disclaimer: When aperson overexposes themselves to any industry, there is a tendency to become alittle… particular. For example:

  • Some people are foodies and have strong opinions about cuisine.
  • Other people are passionate about cars and are outspoken on the subjectof cars.
  • I’m sure you know at least one person who is passionate on what shouldand should not be worn in public.

It’s important to note that just because a foodie is passionate abouthow a dish should be cooked, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can make thatdish. And the car person can’t necessarily build the car they’re critiquing,nor can the fashionista likely sew what they’re judging.

So it is with me and books and movies. I’m not really very opinionatedin any other industry, but after reading thousands of books and seeing anunseemly amount of movies, I have opinions.

I just do.

That said, I think the book The Hunger Games is one of the best booksof this century. It is everything a book should be: artful and emotional,thought-provoking and relatable, and above all, a metaphor we all we’re all alittle afraid to truly consider. I give it every star possible. If the daycomes when I can write something comparable, I will be the happiest of camperson this planet!

In the movie The Hunger Games, I also give the cast every starpossible. Amazing. Stunning. Whoever casted it should get an award. Do theygive awards to casting agents? If not, they TOTALLY should. Casting totallymakes or breaks a movie. And the casting here is on point throughout.

Jennifer Lawrence? Cue choirs of angels. She’s brilliant. Then there's ElizabethBanks' condescending affability as Effie, Woody Harrelson's emotionally destroyed Haymitch, Stanley Tucci's ability to turn final interviews into depersonalizing, entertaining caricatures, Donald Sutherland as a cold, driven tyrant, Josh Hutcherson as the boy caught between resignation and hope, LiamHemsworth as the best friend who is waiting for the day friendship will become something more, and everyone else in the cast. Flawless. Loved them. I could write them all doting,swooning letters and put posters of them on my wall like a teenage fangirl.
They were that good.

But man (read: here’s the part where my movie snob comes out), I wish someonehad talked Gary Ross out of the whole “shaky camera” approach. You know what I’mtalking about: where it seems like they attached a camera to the top of abobblehead doll before saying, “Roll tape!”

It’s always a dangerous move to make the choice to have the camera beone of the “characters” in your movie—to constantly make the viewer aware ofthe camera and to never let us forget that we are (a) watching a movie, and (b)watching said movie through the eyes of someone/something that is never goingto allow us to truly focus.

And while film makers may argue that having cameras bob and weave,never really stopping, and artistically going off frame portrays an aura of unsteadinessand uncertainty—allegedly pulling the viewer more into a movie because we haveto concentrate more to keep focus on the stuff wandering around the screen—it really only makes me more aware that I’m watching a movie. Shaky cameras take me outof the moment, frustrate me, and sometimes get me even a little motion sick. Ididn’t like it in Saving Private Ryan, and it didn’t work for the fight scenesin the Bourne movies, either. I’m just not a fan of the “bobblehead” cameraapproach. ESPECIALLY in a movie aimed at minors. I think it distracts way morethan it potentially adds.

Why? Because when I think about reviewing this movie, the firstthing I think is, “I wish they had held the camera still!” It upstageseverything else about the story.

That said, my snobby note to the directors of the world: Having acamera man walk up stairs with a camera does NOT give us the perspective of aperson walking up those same stairs. Why not? Because the human eye is muchmore advanced than a camera sitting on someone’s shoulder. Our perspective ofwalking up stairs has a sense of fluidity to it. No one’s eyes bob up and down,right and left as they ascend a staircase. If they did, we would likely falldown. Same goes with running through the woods or even standing in one spot.Our eyes don’t bob, weave, and wander. Don’t force us to do those things in amovie theater, please. It’s distracting and does not make the movie moreintense or make us feel like we are really there. Promise.

The second thing I think pulled away from the potential of the moviewas the pacing. Several moments that should have been intense were just slow(i.e., Katniss aiming at the bag of apples). Scenes that brought you to tears inthe book were undeveloped on the screen, which is totally understandable. Butalso fixable in many cases.

That was the complaint I heard the most while walking out of thetheater at three in the morning—that the movie didn’t tug on the heart stringsas people thought it should. Diehard fans who wanted to cry walked away dryeyed and a little confused as they made their way to their cars.

First off, that’s a definite nod to how perfectly the book is written.What Suzanne Collins pulls off with simple words on a page somehow eludesexpert filmmakers with hundreds of millions of dollars. How Collins gets us tostep in and feel what Katniss doesn’t dare feel is masterful, as is how Rue iswoven into the story only to break our hearts is a cathartic heartbreak. Themovie just can’t quite pull this off. In the book Rue rivals Katniss when itcomes to who you are rooting for. (Or, at least, she did for me.) And Rosstries to make that moment happen. He really, really does. But in my mind themistake is giving Rue almost more screen time in death and dying than she’sgiven in life and living.

In my mind, we could have shortened up several of the times we watchKatniss aim her bow (and letting the zoomed-in bobbly camera wander to segmentsof the bow, her eyes, her dirty hands, the chapped pucker of her lips like adystopian love letter) and added in a little more of establishing why Rue doesn’twant to let Katniss die and why Rue is invested in what will be her final task.

In short, the movie could have taken a cue from the book. By creating antear-filled death and burial scene in the movie, and letting Katniss leisurelybury Rue and openly mourn—and showing others from Rue’s district mourning—we arereleased from the obligation of mourning Rue. Everyone else is doing it andtaking their time about it. The other kids didn’t get that, and we didn’t know Ruethat well anyway. So we stay focused on Katniss and start thinking, “Get going!The others are going to come find you when they realize Marvel is gone andprobably dead. You’re out in the open! Hurry!”

Sometimes restraint is your friend.

Bobbleheads should be toys, not filming equipment.
All that said, the movie is probably the best recent adaptation of a novel. If it weren’tfor the **** bobblehead camera, it would be darn near perfect. But when youkeep a viewer (in this case, me) slightly annoyed throughout an entire movie,other flaws start becoming more apparent. You start thinking things like, “Thatflash back didn’t really work,” “Was that the best way to show that?” “Why don’tthey have the mom catatonic in the beginning rather than wasting a flashback onshowing how the mom checked out of a time and Katniss being hyper emotionalabout it?” “Is this scene a flashback, or is it happening in real time will anon-congruent rough cut?” “If Katniss can hit birds and squirrels in the eye lighteningquick while hunting, why does she always spend ten hours when aiming at a big,big target?” “Why do the other kids kill everyone else without preamble, butstop to give monologues when trying to kill Katniss that allow her and/or Peetato be saved?” “Why does everyone keep saving Katniss’ life? Seriously. It's a death match. What's their motivation for letting her live to see another day with her deadly bow and arrow?” “Wait,how could that other pledge know that? They don’t have access to the cameras orknow what the audience knows. They would NEVER know that, much less say that!”

And so on.

So, to try to keep this slightly concise, a big YAY to everything butbobblehead cameras and pacing choices. The movie would have been a whole lotmore effective if it hadn’t relied on a bouncy camera to allegedly pull us inand instead focused on the humanity/inhumanity and true immediacy of the situation. Themovie lets the audience relax and pretty much take a comfortable ride through ahorrific, unthinkable lottery (which maybe relieves some parents who are seeing itwith young kids). It tells the story of the Hunger Games without truly forcing us to consider it or step into it, which is a luxury the book did notallow.

All that said, go see it… but maybe not in IMAX if you’re prone tomotion sickness.

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