Dino Hollywood Reviews “The Hunger Games”
“The Hunger Games” (2012) Directed By Gary Ross
While I now consider, “The Hunger Games” a minor work intended for pre-teen enticement and undeserving of my critical attention, I submit this review on behalf of restoring sanity in the midst of a seemingly contagious fervor that inexplicably extends to adults. Having not read the book on which it’s based, my cursory understanding of the concept called to correlation the Kinji Fukasaku directed Battle Royale (2000), an admirable and effective cinematic exploration of its central conceit which concerns a state-sponsored killing spree presented as sport with children for contestants. My sole reservation in participating in such a derivative entertainment was not in reverence to that which may have inspired it but in attempting to reconcile how a parable of such bleak parameters could be done justice while retaining a PG-13 rating. I’m here to inform you, it hasn’t. Not in the least.
“The Hunger Games” is a film so detached from the viscera of death, that the very second “The Games” actually start, hazy filters and hackneyed editing techniques are hastily introduced to obscure the impact and insulate us from glimpses of what appears to be poorly executed, half-contact, stage combat. This is the action equivalent of the picture’s expository opening wherein the terse text prologue attempts to set up a grave future only to undermine its own gravity as paragraphs graphically dissipate with all the amateur grace an iMovie editing suite can muster. If it wasn’t for Tom Stern’s dense, dusty and sun-speckled introductory images of a ramshackle District 12 and the reserved ingratiation to a perfectly cast Jennifer Lawrence, I’d think this a production entirely incapable of carrying out the task at hand. As it turns out, all are just moving forward under the misguided modus-operandi of delivering a pilot for some new Starz original series. As the compositions standardize, a succession of subdued, plodding sequences of strained emotion beset the bloated build up, which is seemingly hell bent on bracing us for a big kick-off that in actuality bristles with all the brazen edge and visual audacity of a Twilight Saga dream-sequence. Desensitization may be the clumsily induced implication but flimsy execution only serves as reminder that we have yet to be fully acclimated to what violence actually looks like in this realm and shielded from its very nature from the onset we effectively have nothing to be desensitized to.
Unfortunately, my initial reservations, once revealed as resoundingly warranted, rapidly recessed to top the least of my worries. The filmmaker’s soft-serve aesthetic is but a drop in the proverbial bucket of problems plaguing the piece. So as not to wade in the same drab and ultimately inconsequential waters or wander in the same stupefyingly dull circles as the picture in question, I will cut to the chase. Say what you will about the risibly sullen and overtly stagy opening stretch, the uniformly suspect and at times exceptionally sub-par special-effects, the Roger Corman rejected sci-fi costuming or the wince-eliciting line readings of Liam Hemsworth; all offenses bow in subservience to a single, detestable transgression, the corrosive effect of which cannot be overestimated. When it comes to the “The Hunger Games” of the title, the only rule we are implicitly meant to understand is there can be one and only one survivor. This is the crux, the only inherently interesting aspect alone capable of sustaining the peripheral threads of the construct. It is not only the raison d’être but the “hook” as well. That there can be but one victor is the only reason any society watches any televised sport. In this case, “Last Man Standing” is the sport itself. And as behavioral logic collapses around it, that one axiom becomes a delightfully dreadful beacon for all unaffected by the otherwise underwhelming charms of such a blandly drawn universe. Indeed, in the course of “The Games” a discernible lack of logistic context raises concerns that would radically distract if not suppressed with the presupposition that we’ve been purposefully left in the lurch. So we shrug off the preposterous facets of an unfathomably false-ringing script and focus narrowly on one constant as “The Games” play out. Only one of these kids will make it out alive.
Or not. Cue the record scratch because this is where “The Games” play us. Over an hour and a half into the meandering mediocrity and midway through “The Games” themselves an announcement informs the contestants (but more insultingly us) that the rules have been amended to accommodate two survivors as long as they originate from the same district. Two survivors!? From the same district!? Are we witnessing the death of competition as a trustworthy medium for storytelling? Is Suzanne Collins’ treatise some kind of masturbatory, meta-contextual writer’s fantasy wherein she commits ritualistic seppuku of her own craft à la M. Night Shyamalan’s “Lady In The Water”? Is this game-changing cop-out the shameful metaphorical stand-in for that ancient, honorable act of redemption as plagiarism paints Collins into a corner or has Lionsgate marginalized her work for mass-consumption? Was not the ultimate threat of conflict in her story the fact that two adolescents from the same hometown who not only grew up together but possibly love each other may be forced to kill one another? How is this picture meant sustain its own run-time (never mind perpetuate sequels) after the very premise has been castrated?
Not to mention, in respective context, our inauguration actually marks the 74th Hunger Games, meaning we’re being presented a long-standing, televised tradition the pallor of which offers up one possible parallel. Imagine that in the midst of next year’s Super Bowl, before returning from halftime, an announcer states: “For this year only, we’re making an addendum that in the event the score is tied when 4th quarter clock runs out, then both teams may claim victory!” What kind of revolt do you think the NFL would have on its hands? The insipid reasoning surrounding the 11th hour game change should not repress our outrage but rather reveal it as righteous. In the “Hungerverse” an emerging explanation listlessly limps around the star-crossed lovers paradigm of District 12’s tributes and its potential to galvanize the populace but why would that stop anyone in the 11 other districts from crying foul? And by the time the smoke screen of hazily-defined logic clears and the rule reverts back allowing for only one survivor, any threat this wishy-washy script hoped to instill has evaporated. Oh, and I purposefully left out any indication of Spoilers in hopes of approximating the vitriol such a betrayal inspires.
According to the market research firm CinemaScore, among audiences under 18, “The Hunger Games” received a rating of A+ for an average critical consensus of A. While an A+ rating for persons under 18 is certainly no cause for alarm being that the sliding scale would need to include the entirely inept Twilight franchise, the A average rating is mildly disconcerting. Unless, of course, adults comprised less than 10% of its poled audience, which is doubtful.
I would like to point to the uniformly charismatic and entirely commendable work of Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland as possible cause for such a commonplace picture’s palatability and critical “pass” if you will. I also contend that without a cast of this caliber cushioning the blow, the overabundance of goodwill “The Hunger Games” has engendered would’ve remained demographically contained and as wholly uni-generational in its acceptability as Taylor Lautner.