An hour and a half into Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games, the film finally catches up with its limitless hype by delivering a stellar scene of remarkable restraint. As the contestants of the titular game slowly ascend to their enormous battlefield, a countdown makes its way to zero, and then it happens. The sound cuts out, the camera pulls back, and two dozen kids spend 60 seconds of screentime fighting for their lives. Necks are snapped, swords are plunged, blood is sprayed – it’s barbaric desperation at its most effective.
And when the scene ends, we’re right back to where we started: with a painstakingly boring, sloppily paced mess containing fleeting moments of redemption. But I’ve obviously gotten ahead of myself.
In The Hunger Games, 24 young people (ballpark age range 9-21) are chosen by lottery to compete in a popular televised event in which, by the competition’s end, only one winner will emerge. To win, contestants must outwit, outlast and outkill any and everything that comes their way. Now, I don’t take particular interest in watching a bunch of teenagers kill each other for television ratings (which is, for similar reasons, why I detested the exploitative piece of shit known as Battle Royale), and, from a critical standpoint, there isn’t a whole hell of a lot to work with here.
I’ve heard people say the cast is outstanding… are they really? Haven’t we seen Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks and Wes Bently and Donald Sutherland and Toby Jones and Lenny Kravitz all deliver much finer work? Me, I found the actors to be struggling amidst the laughable dialogue that plagued the script. The timing and emotion exuded by the actors was on point, sure, but the performances aren’t what’s at fault here – it’s the game that needs reworking.
Basically, The Hunger Games spends an hour and a half setting up its premise, most of which was lost on me. I didn’t retain a shred of the vernacular the characters spoke in, nor did I care to. And, yes, once the game started, the film did pick up, executing its fair share of flashy moments. But then the inconsistencies kicked in, which is the main reason these huge franchise films tend to fail for me.
Sure, continuity isn’t exactly the first thing on the producers’ minds here – making money is. But take, for instance, the sound of a canon, which is consistently used to signify the death of a contestant. Someone dies, a canon goes boom, until, for whatever reason, it doesn't. People die, no more canons. Ten minutes later, someone else dies, and there’s the canon again. Did I miss something?
Also, the point of the games is to outlive everyone else. To do this, our heroine, Katniss, quietly sneaks around the jungle, never making a peep, using her street smarts to get ahead. That is, of course, until one of her friends dies, and she spends a good few hours screaming out her rage, picking flowers, and saying a prayer for the dearly departed. Huh? Isn’t the point to stay hidden and silent? How the hell is Katniss able to get away with this unanticipated burial? I’ll tell you why: because it makes for “heavy” cinema. It’s what the fans of Suzanna Collins’ book paid to see, so here you go.
Now one final point, which, incidentally, isn’t really the film’s fault.
The Hunger Games goes to great lengths to execute its content with accuracy. This includes kids having their necks snapped, getting speared in the gut, being mauled to death by beasts, and so on. All of this is shown on screen, and all of this is issued as appropriate under the film’s PG-13 rating. Whoever does not see a disconnect here is blind. The new documentary Bully has been slapped with an R rating because the word "fuck" is spoken exactly six times, and never with a sexual connotation. Now, show me one middle schooler who hasn't said the word “fuck” six times, and I’ll show you a liar. Show me a middle schooler who has speared an innocent little girl to death, and I’ll guide you to an institution to psychopathic juveniles.
My point is, not only is The Hunger Games an unevenly paced, mostly boring franchise film (and I do say "mostly" out of pure fairness, because the movie does have its moments), it’s one that is given the benefit of the doubt, simply because it is making Hollywood hundreds of millions. And please, all due respect, but spare me two things: don’t tell me I’d like the movie more if I read the novel, that’s a laughably flimsy argument that I can shit all over. Lastly, stop comparing The Hunger Games to the Twilight films. Is Hunger Games better? Of course, but what the hell kind of praise is that? C-