Tuesday, March 27, 2012

hungry for more

I saw the new Hunger Games movie the old fashioned way: I snuck in. A buddy and I went to see a different movie, and as it let out we saw hundreds of spotty teens hooting and awkwardly shuffling into every other screen in the theater. So we just followed them all in. Our seats were decent. A little too close to the screen, a little far to the left, and too near a young lady who cried at every part. Every part! Even dumb parts! Of which I felt there were many.

I know I'm in the minority here, but I was completely underwhelmed by The Hunger Games. Maybe underwhelmed is too much; maybe I was just whelmed. And I also get that I'm not the target audience here, and never was. Maybe I needed an ironic t-shirt and a stronger knowledge of Katy Perry to really grasp the "emotion" of this movie. But overall I felt it was pretty cold. Icy. As frigid as Satan's teet. I felt literally nothing, except shaky cam disease.

I fully admit that I'm a movie snob. There! I beat you to it! Don't comment and tell me how you go to movies for "entertainment" or to "forget your problems" or just for "fun!" I do none of these things. I go to movies to pull them apart and ask questions and make-out with my wife. If I can't digest a movie, if I can't get into a little bit of a fight about it, I feel cheated. This is why I flew the proud banner of The Tree of Life last year, a movie that most of my friends uniformly hated. That movie grabbed me by the hoo-ha's and never let up. Yes, it was slow. Yes, it was visual. No, not everything made sense. But dammit, someone was saying something! Someone was taking a risk.

Gary Ross, director of The Hunger Games, decided to make the safest, most workmanlike interpretation possible, and congrats to him! This movie will make him one bajillion dollars. What it doesn't make, unfortunately, is a significant contribution to the world of book adaptations. I felt like he had a copy of the novel on hand to make sure that he never deviated from the primary source - his choices were so slavish and unimaginative. People fought! Then they died! Then the camera bounced around! Then Katniss got mad and cried in slow motion! I didn't mind the lack of Vox back stories, or the origin of the Mockingjay pin, any possible explanation of who Effie Trinket was, or the fact that Cinna, the most interesting character in the book, consisted of gold eyeliner and six lines of dialogue.

What I missed was the danger! Remember the book? Children were literally killing each other! It was bloody and visceral and disturbing. And none of that was in the movie. I get it; we needed the PG-13 rating. So Ross put every violent act into a chaotic series of camera jerks, and in the end we don't know who lives or who dies. In fact we don't care, since the movie never takes the time to introduce us to anybody. There's a major character who dies halfway through the story, which is incredibly poignant and unexpected in the novel. When it happens in the movie, you sort of wonder who this person is. You never really saw her before. Oh, you think. That's a bummer. She seemed cool. But then again, I'm likely dead inside. The teen next to me was a veritable bathtub of sobs. Why didn't I feel anything? Why did I want to sneak over and see 21 Jump Street? Why didn't I?

It's not a bad movie. I can see why people like it. It is incredibly faithful to the novel. I think Jennifer Lawrence did a nice job with an arc-less character. She mostly needed to run around in snazzy leather jackets and wear lip gloss and act all grouchy. Whenever she or any of the actors needed to cry there was always someone on set with a squeeze bottle of glycerin tears. But I just wanted more style. I wanted more visual risks. I wanted to feel danger and fear and paranoia. And wasp stings that make you black out for days. And loss and exhilaration and love. I remember finishing the first Hunger Games book in Paris last summer and visualizing a dystopian world of cotton candy decadence and eye popping gluttony. I understand why Ross wanted to drain District 12 of all of its color, but I couldn't shake the feeling that, despite the wigs and the costumes and the makeup, he drained the Capitol of its color as well. Someone needs to take some lessons in color from Tim Burton or Jean-Pierre Jeunet (yep! That's two condescending French references in one paragraph.)

So, there it is. My two cents. I realize nobody cares. Lisa insists that I was probably just tired when I saw it. Maybe I was, but I don't remember that. Maybe I was annoyed at seeing the movie with all those plump little sobbing teens. Maybe the projector was having problems? I can always blame the projector. Or maybe this was an instance where a director played it safe, and one little audience member in one little western state was hoping he'd play it a little more hungry, and a lot more dangerous.
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