I haven’t read The Hunger Games, but several reviewers confidently told me that, if I saw it the film adaptation, I would be thrilled and excited and engaged and have my world rocked.
The Hunger Games is a mess of a film. It is a baffling, confusing, and — worst of all — boring waste of what felt like five hours. The story (if that’s not a complete misuse of that word) follows Katniss (which I variously understood to be ‘Candice’ ‘Cadness’ and ‘Clarice’ before somebody sent me an SMS explaining what was going on) as she engages in some sort of television show where she has to kill other people on the television show… because of politics… or something…
Katniss lives in a world divided into thirteen sections. Twelve of the sections are Divisions (numbered 1 to 12) populated with proles who perform a specific kind of menial labour. Katniss is from Division 12: the coal miners (though we never see any coal miners). The thirteenth section is the grandiose Capitol, filled with bourgeois fashion-mongers. In fairness to the film, the costume and makeup department turned it up to eleven for the Capitol scenes: it is a dazzling spectacle of weird, alien makeup and stupid facial hair. For some reason, the bourgeois Capitol runs a television show where they get prole adolescents to fight to the death for their amusement. Something sinister is going on and Donald Sutherland does his best to bring some gravitas but nothing about it makes any sense.
Instead of exploring the politics and reasons behind Katniss’ world, we follow Katniss and a collection of two-dimensional, uber-boring characters as they try to survive each other and the television station who can somehow set them on fire. Oh, and a bunch of kids turn out to be sadists. Who all team up with the other sadists. That’s kinda weird.
After an hour-long set up where the audience is repeatedly told that ‘finding a sponsor’ is the single most important thing ever, sponsors don’t do anything during the survival part. After watching the 24 teens strut their stuff in training, trying to work out who the important characters will be, half of them are culled within the first three minutes of the Hunger Game.
The film does this far too often. It expects the audience to engage with characters who are snuffed like brief candles. The moment Katniss meets them, it’s like an egg timer is placed above their head and a target is painted on their chest. The movie expects the audience to engage with the puzzle of Katniss’ world but then drops the point thirty seconds later. A romantic interest is set up for Katniss, but he doesn’t get selected for the Hunger Game so… nothing. He quietly moves to the background and is briefly seen again at the end. Her new partner betrays her in the Hunger Game so… nothing. Thirty seconds later, he’s back on Team Katniss. For some unknown reason, a riot starts up so… nothing. Thirty seconds of shaky camera work and the riot is squashed.
And then Zuul shows up.
There is no suspense in the film. Every problem is encountered and solved within a few minutes. It’s like being a passenger in a learner’s car: the uneven acceleration and bunny hops mean you never relax or ease into the journey. In this case, the uneven acceleration is the pacing of the film and the bunny hops are the shaky cam. Oh, God. That shaky cam…
There’s also utterly no point to the film. This may shock you, but I’ve never been selected at random to fight a random group teenagers to the death for the entertainment of others. I have absolutely no way to relate to any of the characters. Not a single person can sit in the audience and feel: ‘Oh, yeah. I totally know what that feels like.’ You might think that this is a problem with lots of films. ‘Mark, do you know what it feels like to be stuck on an interplanetary mining ship when a xenomorph hatches from your colleague’s chest?’ ‘Mark, do you know what it feels like to be born a mutant with superpowers who has to fight other mutants?’ ‘Mark, do you know what it feels like to be an industrialist who inherits his fortune and uses that fortune to make bat-related weapons to punch left wing activists?’
The difference between those films and The Hunger Games, is that there are common grounds. I can imagine what it’s like to be terrified of something I don’t understand that looks an awful lot like a sex metaphor. I can understand what it’s like to feel isolated and unique during adolescence. And I am the goddamn Batman.
The Hunger Games doesn’t give me any of that. I don’t understand why the characters are trying to kill each other. I don’t understand why Katniss does nine-tenths of the things that she does. I don’t understand why she has to pretend to be madly in love with the guy who tried to lead a group of sadists towards her. I don’t understand why the television company sets the forest on fire. I don’t understand why ointments magically cure all ailments. Nothing about this sodding film makes sense.
I’ve mentioned these problems to friends who have read the books. ‘Oh yes,’ they say, ‘But if you read the book, it’s explained that…’
You don’t go to a film to see a story that only makes sense if you do something other than watch the film. The film should be a complete story. When there are massive plot holes and confusing story jumps, these can’t be magicked away with ‘Oh, that’s explained somewhere else.’
Imagine if Citizen Kane mentioned ‘Rosebud’ in the opening act and then didn’t refer to it ever again. You would be confused and baffled. You would be all like ‘What the hell was with that Rosebud stuff at the start that went nowhere?’ I don’t think I’d be satisfied if my friends said, ‘Oh, you need to read the book of the film. It’s explained there.’ I don’t think anybody would be satisfied.
This is a movie which will appeal to one and only one audience: people who want to see a book they love turned into a movie. That is, this film is made to appease the same people who are killing cinema.
There is nothing creative or interesting about this film (except the costumes). It is a meanderingly slow film where the main character is immortal because you can’t bring yourself to care about any other character and so she’s going to win by default. There is no resolution to the story and the explanations are on a Doctor Who level of plausibility.
For me, the moral of the story was: ‘If you make poor people fight to the death for your entertainment, there are no consequences.’