Monday, July 9, 2012

The Hunger Games, the movie

On my way back from the UK last week I ate lunch and watched a film. The lunch, despite one's palate being really different at seven or eight miles in the air, wasn't entirely bad. Sadly the film, The Hunger Games, was.

Lunch started well enough. The amuse-bouche was luscious slivers of cold, very lightly smoked salmon. I couldn't decide on a starter, so I ordered two: mackerel and asparagus. Both were, to be blunt, vile. I ate them anyway. The main course, the Guinea fowl, was damn good--though the stuff that came with it (some slithery cucumber, ugh) wasn't. I didn't fancy any of the desserts (too much wheat and cream) so ended up scoffing a handful of specially-made-for-British Airways chocolates (which were most fine; I wish I could remember the brand). The wine was a nifty Champagne, Laurent-Perrier Grand Si├Ęcle, followed by a Chassagne-Montrachet, not as good as the stunning Meursault I had on the plane on my February trip, but still pretty tasty. The green tea with jasmine pearls afterwards was more than acceptable.

But, oh dear me, the film: thin and utterly unconvincing. The acting was poor, which was a horrible surprise--I've seen most of these actors do great work. They didn't make me feel anything. And with this premise, I should. These are children killing children. It should have been shocking, awful. But it felt like...nothing. Not vicious. Not morally repugnant. Not tense. Not involving. Not full of the dopamine rush of reversals. Just empty. What's the point of a great premise but if neither book nor film are willing to really Go There. Take, for example, the scene in which Katniss saws through a branch to dump a humming nest of deadly tracker-jackers (super-toxic wasps) on her rivals. You would think (at least I did) that Katniss would have understood the consequences of her actions and wrestled with it. But she didn't hesitate; as she sawed away she seemed utterly unbothered by what might happen next. It's hard to say whether this is the fault of the writing, the acting, or the directing, but Katniss in that moment comes across as either unfeeling or stupid. Not the best way to induce sympathy. Also, I remember when reading the book how annoyed I was that Collins didn't really examine what it meant/how it felt when Katniss killed a rival with an arrow. The film (probably the book, too, but I read it once, very quickly, long ago and wouldn't swear to it) elides Katniss's grief over Rue (which was possibly the least convincing moment of the film) with Katniss's killing of, well, whoever it was she killed. (Yep, it was that moving.)

The editing felt off kilter, too. Though perhaps the trouble lay with the original footage. I don't know enough about these things to tell. Wherever the fault lies, the action sequences were definitely wrong. It went wrong right at the beginning--Katniss's bow hunt in the woods--and never recovered.

Even the sets were unbelievable. Both District 12 and the Capitol felt like Disney theme parks.

As for the ending, it doesn't work. Halfway through the film I found myself trying to remember how the book went, and couldn't--because I hadn't believed it when I read it. The rule changes are too convenient. They let Katniss off the hook of every moral dilemma. She never has to make hard decisions. She never has to choose. I end up not caring, not believing. I end up not making the story mine; I forget what happens because it doesn't matter to me.

There isn't one moment of this film that I liked. An emphatic Thumbs Down.

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7 comments:

  1. I think the concept was too dark for the YA age group that the book / movie were intended for, and so everything had to be "dumbed down" visually and emotionally, otherwise they would've had to give the movie an R rating.

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    1. I hear what you're saying--but the book had the same problem, at least emotionally.

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  2. Well, I just Googled: Artisan du Chocolat?

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    1. Yes! More precisely, these. The Champagne truffles were particularly tasty; I liked the stem ginger, too.

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  3. I've been away, so am only getting caught up. Your comment: "These are children killing children. It should have been shocking, awful. But it felt like...nothing." is how I felt about the book. I thought it got better in the rest of the series, the effect on her ended up well done. But at first I was appalled at how lightly the killing was handled.

    And here: "I remember when reading the book how annoyed I was that Collins didn't really examine what it meant/how it felt when Katniss killed a rival with an arrow." I felt the same way.

    "They let Katniss off the hook of every moral dilemma. She never has to make hard decisions. She never has to choose. I end up not caring, not believing." Yes, yes, yes!

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  4. This post got me interested in seeing the movie and I kept in the back of my mind. So today I finally saw it, just finished it actually, and went looking for the instances you pointed out here.

    I agree about the acting and I think it is the fault of the writing and directing in this case. I don’t think in some cases the actors had enough to work with, so some scenes that should have had greater impact fell a little short.

    But I don’t understand where you’re coming from during the scene with the wasps. She was wounded, stuck in a tree, cornered, and exhausted. The wasps were her only chance and she had to saw through them while getting stung herself, not to mention she only had so much time to accomplish it before they woke. I’m of the opposite opinion on this, if she had sat there and dickered about wondering at the moral implications of saving her own life I would have rolled my eyes and felt she disserved to die. The morality of harming people who are specifically out to kill you just isn’t all that complicated in my mind.

    Plus she gets the chance to question the morality early in the games, when she and the red haired girl run into each other. They have that moment of staring at each other, each wondering if they should attack or run and both looking rather scared.

    She also comes across the morality issue when she wakes up to see Rue, who has taken care of her, and chooses not to attack her. That spelled out Katniss’s sense of morality as clearly as it needed to be. Rue was a very easy target and one who’s death brings her closer to winning, yet they team up.

    When she goes to destroy the supplies and it is guarded by a single kid, she chooses not to kill him when she easily could have. It’s a quiet moment but an active choice.

    The only time she tries to kill is when she is in direct danger. That too speaks to her morality. The same of when it comes down to her and Peter in the end and he asks her to kill him, that time the moment was less quiet and also an active choice.

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    1. The thing that was missing was her response to the consequence of her actions: even killing someone by necessity is killing someone.

      I'd have to rewatch to decide about the hacking-the-branch off scene--but you may have a point. As I say, I'd have to rewatch when not distracted by fabulous wine at 40,000'.

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