Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Hunger Games: We Just Want a Good Movie

The woman next to me at the ArcLight bar was nursing what looked liked a Cosmo on the rocks.  I had a glass of the house zin.  She had just seen La Casa De Mi Padre and liked it well enough; I mentioned I was about to go in to The Hunger Games.

"Oh, Lenny Kravitz is in that--I want to see it."  

She would have been happy with Lenny's unfortunately brief screen time as our protagonist's stylist--the camera loves him and his gold eyeliner; he's sympathetic in addition to being hot. (Speaking of musicians, the director of the Hunger Games within the film, Seneca Crane, played by Wes Bentley, looked like a poor man's Dave Navarro--how cool would it have been to have cast Dave?)  But aside from Lenny and Woody Harrelson, who plays the drunken survivor/mentor Haymitch Abernathy, there just really isn't anyone else of much interest in this movie.  And we need that, because I, for one, didn't care a whit about our lead character or anyone else from her vintage Appalachian District 12.

Which frankly surprised me, because I was a huge fan of Jennifer Lawrence in Winter's Bone, which was one of my Top 10 of 2010 films. Here, though, Lawrence is doughy, flat, and cold as Katniss Everdeen.  Where's Lisbeth Salander when you need her? 

Which brings me to the biggest problem with this movie (aside from its dull script, adapted by Suzanne Collins, on whose novel it's based, director Gary Ross, and Billy Ray):  it wasn't directed by David Fincher.  Or Ridley Scott.  Or Kathryn Bigelow.  Ross brought us such movies as Big, Pleasantville, and Seabiscuit.  This material cries out for more of a visual stylist, as other commentators have noted.  The Hunger Games has the feel of a director appropriating a genre film rather than embracing it.  I kept thinking of the purity of The Road Warrior (survival in a post-apocalyptic future) or Southern Comfort (Ten Little Indians in the swamp)--both, incidentally, from 1981.  Another problem is that Ross shoots violent one-on-one action scenes in extreme close-up, so you can't tell what the heck is going on, no doubt to make the movie more palatable for tweens (or at least their parents).  

Katniss' unremarkable boyfriend says to her about the games, "They just want a good show."  Yeah, Gale, so do we.  The Hunger Games is not exactly a bad movie; it's just not really any good.  

The Hunger Games has some fine costuming (designer Judianna Makovsky, costume supervisor Dan Moore) and production design (Philip Messina), but  the overall look is low budget due to the cheesy CGI and special effects (like Katniss' flame clothes).  At two and a half hours, it's way too long for its simple plot and surface characterizations.  And given that T. Bone Burnett and James Newton Howard were responsible for the music, I was frankly disappointed.  

As for the story, it's a solidly plausible premise right out of reality TV.  But there's a basic authenticity lacking to the treatment here.  Which is death to sci-fi. 

But none of this will matter much.  As of opening day, the film had already grossed 70 million dollars, and I believe that Ross has already signed on for the sequel.  

I just want to get my hands on some of that miracle salve our District 12 team got at critical junctures from Haymitch (who seems to be the only "sponsor," though there's much ado about attracting them at the outset).  After all, you never know when life's twists and turns, like this plot, will need a little deus ex machina assistance.

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1 comment:

  1. I watched Winter's Bone for the first time yesterday (Netflix) because of all the ongoing hype about Jennifer Lawrence. I thought the movie was mostly good, especially in its stark portrayal of the very strange culture in which these characters lived. And of course I loved the bluegrass music. But I was not enchanted with Jennifer Lawrence the way many critics were. I thought she was fine, but she had basically the same deadpan expression on her face for the entire film. That may have been perfect for this role in this movie, but it made me wonder whether she can really act. When an actor's facial expression never alters during the course of a movie, I just can't call that good acting; it's too one-dimensional for me. And I didn't see the luminous halo thing around her that Joe Morgenstern described in his review of Hunger Games. She's pretty, of course, but I didn't see any particular "star quality." So I was already not inclined to see Hunger Games (I'm not really a fan of fantasy and dystopian future plots either); now I won't see it for sure. Thanks for clarifying this for me, Sharon.