Review: THE HUNGER GAMES Fails to Satiate

Contributor; Toronto, Canada (@filmfest_ca)
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Review: THE HUNGER GAMES Fails to Satiate

I admit up front that I'm not the demographic that The Hunger Games aims to enthrall. While I grew up reading plenty of Tolkien, and plodded my way through the Harry Potter tomes, the Hunger Games series is too contemporary, too directed at adolescent girls, to fall within my grasp. (The same can be said, of course, for the repulsive-looking Twilight series, but that's a whole other conundrum).

I also would suggest that, at least in terms of its central conceit, The Hunger Games is a kind of infantilized version of Battle Royale, taking any real sense of danger or doom from the premise and wringing through an almost callously preposterous "feel good" prism so that we're left with what amounts to a near-bloodless massacre.


If you don't know already, The Hunger Games is the story of a world where twelve defeated districts must give up a pair of young people in order to participate in a broadcast hunt to the death. It's part Roman pageantry, part assault on reality television, with a smattering of altruistic, Robin Hood-ish philosophy. The district dwellers are all dressed in drab clothing, the capital citizens akin to the upper crust in Gilliam's Brazil, but with a whimsy that feels forced rather than effectively sardonic. We've got half the film to build up to the "fight," and the second half to watch the inevitable play out. It's not too hard to see the ending telegraphed miles away, especially when you know the not-so-secret fact that this is but one part of a series.

The film is incredibly annoying, if only on a strategic level. Once our protagonist has collected her bow and arrow, a device we've already seen her well capable of using, she refuses to do what one should with any range weapon - maintain distance and kill all your enemies from cover. Is it really too much to ask that between the awkward love triangles and silly eyelashes that the film gives us a hint of proper tactics?!

I've already been hearing the counter arguments - it's a morality tale, they say, a young girl fighting against the tyrannical government by only inadvertently killing her fellow prey, providing a sharp contrast to those in power, and thus a rallying cry for the victimized region that she's there to represent. She doesn't want to kill, and so spares the life of her fellow game players when she can, only killing them surreptitiously or when she herself is under attack.

Hogwash. By any rights, she should be the first to die, save for the sheer amount of deus ex machina that parachute in fairly consistently. Without the scope of a novel, we've got severe time compression, and you never feel that there's been that much hardship as the young'uns pick off one another over time, no sense that they're really starving or at their wit's end before the ending really comes; nothing that some sky vaseline can't cure, at any rate.

Furthermore, in order to placate its adolescent audience that demands thrills without actually seeing them, the film's PG rating [in Canada; PG-13 in the U.S., 12A in the U.K.] obscures all but the most chaste of horrors through a blurry mess of shakycam. We have shots of interminable running, followed by an explosion of motion blur, and then some squirted ketchup-like goo and the boom of a cannon to account for another victim of circumstance.

So, idiotic tactics and a chaste film about human carnage - what's to actually like about the dreary mess? Well, for one thing, some of the cameo players seem to actually be enjoying themselves. Woody Harrelson is particularly effective as the washed up surfer-boy former victor, and Elizabeth Banks plays with a mid-Atlantic affectation to suitably obnoxious effect. While Lenny Kravitz's foray into sunglasses-free filmmaking is adequate enough, Stanley Tucci seems to be having the time of his life wringing the most out of his dentured, Cheshire cat-like grin.

Our beloved lead, Jennifer Lawrence, is perfectly pouty throughout - I genuinely liked her in Winter's Bone, and she takes what little she's given and does what I assume the fans will want her to do. Still, I'm not entirely sure there's enough film here for her to carry for anyone not already predisposed to love the thing.

I do not begrudge those of you that will go and thoroughly enjoy yourself at this film, I hold no particular animus for the film other than its inadequacies on a technical level. I certainly heard first hand those that dismissed Peter Jackson's Tolkien epic as an interminable, predictable mess, but I assume that even the more ardent of Suzanne Collins aren't going to pick this one over Frodo and friends. (I've been known to be wrong on this front, I shall point out again).

The Hunger Games will do what it's supposed to do, ignite another franchise after the ending of the Harry Potter series, and soon Twilight, scratching a particular itch for a particular niche. I think it'll make an absolute fortune, maybe even surpassing the glittery Vampire series, and that bodes well for Lion's Gate and their distribution partners who may then take the nerdlucre and plow money into other indie fare I might find far more palatable.

I would however humbly suggest that the more sordid, id-obsessed, and thus more interesting film is the one that you should see instead, a film that was too quickly dismissed on the North American continent due in part to its temporal proximity to the Columbine shootings. Rather than Hunger Games, why not give the first Battle Royale a try instead, or even good ol' Brazil, and chew on something that'll really sate your hunger for this type of story.

The Hunger Games opens around the world starting Thursday, March 22.

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godsaremonstersMarch 20, 2012 9:36 AM

Look, I have no dog in this fight. I don't care about the Hunger Games. It just makes me shake my head when I hear grown ass adults complain that the violence in a movie aimed you young teens is too toothless. And as every nerd in the world is comparing this to Battle Royal (as if that movie invented the "hunting humans" genera), I think its fair to point out that comparing pg-13 rated teen fair to hard R cerebral foreign fair is at best a false equivalency and at worst intellectually dishonest.

Matthew LeeMarch 20, 2012 10:23 AM

You seem to have missed where I point out in my editorial that all three of my examples use far nastier violence in books aimed at the same or an even younger age group. Like I said, in the book at least, the violence in The Hunger Games plainly doesn't matter - it's there to amp up the melodrama and that's it. It's absolutely no surprise they've PG-13'd it - they clearly picked the book in part because they could safely do that. The violence in the Chaos Walking series is sickening in places, for example, and I say that as a man in his 30s who's seen some fairly grim things on film. Using 'But it's based on a book for kids!' as an excuse is far more disingenuous than anything either Jason or me are guilty of.

godsaremonstersMarch 20, 2012 10:47 AM

Why? When it is a book for kids, now a movie for kids. Expand on that.

lilseigh30March 20, 2012 12:54 PM

It's disturbing to me that you suggest to audiences to watch Battle Royale for that kind of sickening gore instead- as if you think people will be seeing The Hunger Games to only enjoy children being killed. That is not the point at all, hence why the book was formed by one persons point-of-view. It's to watch a young girl react, defend, and fight her way to survival while not losing herself. As for the romance, it is hardly a driving force for the story and it's not meant to be. The fact that you would point that out as an annoyance for the few minutes it takes place in the film is silly. If you've even read the book, you'd know that romance is hardly the point and the reason those moments are even there is because love is a real emotion, whether for a friend or just the pity of other humans suffering, so it's natural that would exist when you're so close to death. Seems to me that since you refer to Tolkien and LOTR multiple times that you just don't want another franchise to shine above that...but this is a completely different story meant for different audiences, so there's no need for comparison.

Jason GorberMarch 20, 2012 1:00 PM

it begins....

Agent OrangeMarch 20, 2012 1:59 PM

"as if you think people will be seeing The Hunger Games to only enjoy children being killed. That is not the point at all, hence why the book was formed by one persons point-of-view."

Sorry, but that's the conceptual hook of the book as created by author Suzanne Collins. Kids v. kids, pitted against one another by an evil totalitarian regime. Simple, brutal and effective. It's why people will turn up to see the film. No one is coming to "watch a young girl react, defend, and fight her way to survival while not losing herself." With any luck, that's why the film will be remembered, but don't pretend the book is anything less that a violent teenage fantasy.

SaltonerMarch 20, 2012 3:14 PM

Wait till you see the new twist on the American remake of Oldboy!

WarmyMarch 20, 2012 7:58 PM

I think the reviewer has said that the limitations pressed upon this story due to an unveiled attempt to appeal to a certain demographic has made the rudimentary story simply uninteresting. Lets not forget that we do not always have to dumb down art work for children. Just look at Pixars Up. The themes which went on in that film were incredibly adult, but i think it was pulled off beautifully. Here we have a movie geared to an even older audience and its themes are less evocative and powerful.

Major_RagerMarch 21, 2012 1:34 AM

I don't think it's stupid to expect gritty violence when approaching any movie that revolves around a kid-vs-kid murder game. Why go with such a nasty little plot if you're not going to get your hands dirty?

James DennisMarch 21, 2012 5:46 AM

I hardly think that a violent story necessitates an explicitly violent 15/18 rated movie, to have the desired effect. All Quiet On The Western Front - woah, they totally bottled on the gore of WW1.

jsabusolutionsMarch 21, 2012 9:48 AM

Its too much hype I actually want it to die already. What people dont understand is that this concept has been done. Give me something new! Boo hoo all the rich people in power are evil corrupt and they exploit the poor overworked dying masses who are all good people btw for their own pleasures, Its the Running Man, Battale Royale and every other dystopian future shock scenario. The only thing different is that it has a teenage heroine with a totally useless romance in the mix. Nothing against Suzanne Collins actually as the books themselves are better than Twilight but attach Hollywood hype to it and this is another teen replacement for Twilight.

Warren PeaceMarch 21, 2012 10:03 AM

It's so odd how people are framing this as "Battle Royale vs. Hunger Games: there can be only ONE." You don't need to act as if you're on the sidelines cheering your team against the invading horde. Battle Royale's premise was hardly original in the first place. As for the weird non sequiturs about Lord of the Rings and Brazil (???)... well, stream-of-consciousness rants aren't the most coherent things.

This film isn't Battle Royale, Twilight, Harry Potter, Brazil, Lord of the Rings, or the Hunger Games book. It deserves to be evaluated on it's own terms, separated from the author's prejudices about zeitgeist. The forest goes unreviewed while Gorber huffs about all those goddamn trees.

Tin Tin gets to exist even after Indiana Jones. Carpenter's The Thing takes a lot from Scott's Alien. There's room in cinema for all of them.

huffy08March 21, 2012 12:41 PM

This. I love Twitch but from the very beginning their coverage of this film has wreaked of bias.

godsaremonstersMarch 21, 2012 5:37 PM

I wouldn't call it a "veiled attempt to appeal to a certain demographic" as much as a logical and obvious attempt for a major motion picture to hit the "widest" demographic. Its what it was always going to be. No need for nerd/blogger rage/entitlement over it being what it was always going to be.
The fact that some children's stories contain themes and stories that appeal to an older audience is rather irrelevant. Sure Up was ostensibly a children's story with some adult themes, its still a false analogy as it was a disney/pixar joint and they would have to accidentally ship 2girls1cup to have their movies be a flop. This is a new ip. I can't blame them for being cautious and their first outing. Id say stop complaining that the tweeny film was too tweeny and see where they go from here.

godsaremonstersMarch 21, 2012 5:46 PM

I agree, I love Twitch as well. I don't blame the site as much as general attitude of the "blogosphere' about this IP. Since many of them don't seem to understand that a movie that has themes they generally like may not have been made with them in mind. The audacity. Sure it was ok when it was vampires and werewolves(they've sucked for years), but don't you touch our post apocalyptic/ hunting humans/ vague sci-fi. We'll bite!

presti71March 21, 2012 8:09 PM

Even though he stated it in the beginning, the reviewer probably should have been more emphatic in stating that he is NOT the demographic for this film. He was basically saying that the film was not made for him and is not his type of film which everyone should take into account when reading his review.
The big problem with film reviewing these days is there is only two basic positions accepted: The film Sucks completely! and The film is Great!
There is NOTHING wrong with objectively NOT liking a film solely because it is "not for you" or not your type of film.
There are plenty of films i did not enjoy because of this very reason but that i respected on a technical level.
Not every film is going to appeal to every person no matter how well they are made and that goes for film critics as well.
If a film "critic" says up front that a type of film you LOVE is not for them then DONT take their review to heart! period.

justin.slotmanMarch 21, 2012 8:51 PM

Yeah, and this bothered me too: "While I grew up reading plenty of Tolkien, and plodded my way through the Harry Potter tomes, the Hunger Games series is too contemporary, too directed at adolescent girls, to fall within my grasp."

I mean...Harry Potter is juvenile literature as well, but adults were reading it. The Hunger Games is basically in the same category. Twilight is too, but Twilight is awful and everybody understands it to be awful. THG is basically getting close to the same level of praise as the Potter books did as books, and has a similar sort of breakout from its demographic. I think Jason is just illustrating how badly he's misread the appeal of THG if he thinks people like him (adult males I guess I mean) aren't reading it or aren't supposed to read it. I speak as an adult male and a THG fan here. It's to dystopian SF what Potter was to fantasy _especially_ in terms of crossdemographic appeal.

Jason GorberMarch 21, 2012 10:54 PM

This will get even more exciting when you people actually -see- the movie you're talking about... Keep it up!

James DennisMarch 22, 2012 8:46 AM

I've seen it, and I just don't see why it needs to be explicitly violent to work. More problematic is the inept way the action scenes are staged...

Kurt HalfyardMarch 22, 2012 9:27 AM

Post Apocalyptic films for kids (with no gore) are nothing new:

City of Ember
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Winds

Kurt HalfyardMarch 22, 2012 9:30 AM

And I should say that TWITCH has been highly supportive of all these films, across the board.

It's the teen-lit angle and the over-hyping of publicists/media-outlets that to a degree affected our perception of this property from the get-go.

Jason GorberMarch 22, 2012 10:57 AM

A brief clarification - In fairness to Kurt's comments above, overhyping had nothing explicit to do with my perception - I went in as cold as I could to determine, as a work of cinema, whether or not I found it to enjoyable, engaging, interesting.

Other articles on the site may well come from a different motivation, but I assure my readers that there's no behind-the-scenes negotiation about whether to shitcan a particular work due to some agenda.

I didn't care one way or the other about the film going in (the very definition of a lack of explicit bias, re: comment above), and sadly felt the same way going out.

I'll let the article stand, and encourage those that have since seen the film to read it with fresh eyes.

Meanwhile, I do feel somewhat gutted that such passionate debate hasn't been reserved for what I think to be a highly underrated film, JOHN CARTER. But I guess I'm funny that way...

kungfueurotrashMarch 22, 2012 12:04 PM

Battle Royale all day every day and twice on Sunday's.... 24, 2012 12:55 AM

"I've seen it, and I just don't see why it needs to be explicitly violent to work."

When the whole conceit of the story - kids being forced to kill other kids - is explicity violent, then there this a valid argument for the lack of violence detracting from the movie. Ms Collins made it that violent for a reason.

Can we quit pretending that the target audience for these books and movies - teen girls - care anything about the violence or social or political commentary. They're in it for one thing. The boys. Go to any message board relating to THG and there is no debate on the the violence, morality, political or social commentary. It's all about who Katniss should be with Gale or Peeta. And that's fine.

If you read the books, then there are enough trailers, clips, interviews, etc. to know that this has essentially been 'dumb downed' to appeal to the broadest spectrum of people. I don't blame the studio or even Ms Collins for that. Hollywood is first and formost a business. But by taking this direction, a lot of messages that Ms Collins trys to convery will be lost. But then again I argue that most (not all) of the target audience don't care about those messages anyway.

I read the books and while THG has flaws (especially world building and the cartoonishness of the capitol and it's inhabitants), I generally liked it. I thought the second and third books were absolute crap). And if we are going to say you have to ignore the books and review the movies on their own merit, then it's is a valid argument to say that the violence or lack there of and the 'dumbing down' of the social commentary doesn't work. That the movie is a generic action flick with lots of fine actors doing the best with what they have to work with. Afterall, that's pretty much what most of the people going to see this want anyway.

grayghostwriterApril 7, 2012 10:01 PM

The parachutes are not examples of deus ex machina. They are explained in the story as being from sponsors. They are explained in the book even better: every time Katliss kisses Peeta, she gets a parachute.

A deus ex machina, or "God out of the machine," is a plot-changer that comes in with no explanation or no logical reason for existence, as if randomly thrown in by God because he had nothing better to do than mess up a perfectly good plot.

Collins is an experienced writer, and covers all of her bases in the books. The movie forces the viewer to pay more attention, but there is no deus ex machina in this movie.

Jason GorberApril 7, 2012 10:56 PM

I see you lifted some stuff from wiki, but missed the central point of the device. If the explanation for the inclusion of the given plot device is preposterous, it's also to be avoided under Aristotle's admonitions.

You'll note that as used in modern times the term connotes any plot device or contrivance that is itself improbable, essential a (lazy) narrative tool that is incorporated at just the right moment in order to resolve a given plot point. While the book may go to great lengths (bully to you for having read it), the film has mere glimpses of Woody sucking up to a citizen who then, for reasons only hinted at in the film, gives some money.

We don't see parachutes coming for others (except in the case where she receives salve to help her love interest), we get simply at just the moment you think all is lost for our poor, pouty protagonist a sudden infusion of help-y, happy potion that can make things better (or, in the case of the fire and the magic, preposterous holo-dogs, worse). The story does well to account for how she gets her weapons, it does a miserable job of accounting for all these "bonus" gifts that entirely take any of the tension away from the drama.

I'd suggest, strongly, that these are patently little more than brutish plot contrivances, and all the sugar coating that the novel may grant the keen reader does nothing to dissuade the fact that they are anything more than that.

Still, if you're tied up in nomenclature, simply accept that if they're not formally to be considered under the rubric of "deus ex machina", accept that they're just examples of shit writing without need to reference Ancient Greek dramaturgical convention.

DimitriyMay 8, 2012 5:30 PM

Jesus Christ! One more idiot who claims the right to criticize without reading the book, as well as compare it with garbage like Twilight. Read the goddamn book (because it's great) and shut your trap.

By the way, the film is great. Has its flows, but what doesn't. I'd like it, if it wasn't for the book I read before.

Todd BrownMay 8, 2012 5:34 PM

People aren't paying to watch the book, they're paying to watch a movie. If it can't stand on its own merits as a film then that's a perfectly valid criticism.

WillRoss623August 24, 2012 3:19 PM

Haha for girls? In my school, most of the people reading the books were guys and at the theater, most of the people there were guys. Just because there's a girl in it doesn't automatically make it a "girls" book/movie. Almost everyone in the 8th grade enjoyed the movie and the books, not just the girls. I'm a guy and I thought the film was enjoyable but no where near as good as the books. I do see the similarities between The Hunger Games and Battle Royal (There's too many to ignore) but so what? Neither is an original concept and in a lot of ways, they are different from each other. I'll just enjoy both.

Tom StoneAugust 24, 2012 4:02 PM

All movies should stand on their own merits regardless of what they are based on. Under your logic, everyone who says they enjoy the first Pirates of the Caribbean should really go on the Disneyland ride it was based on before they say anything about the movie.

I haven't read the book but the movie was one of the most morose teen movies I've seen in years.

Tom StoneAugust 24, 2012 4:07 PM

8th graders read Twitch? Wow.