Thursday, 22 March 2012

THE HUNGER GAMES - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Based on the first of three dreadful bestselling books by Suzanne Collins, this might have made for a decent picture if it had come closer to Jewison's "Rollerball" or Fukasaku's "Battle Royale", but then this would have required something resembling a director, as opposed to the incompetent Gary Ross

The Hunger Games
(2012) dir. Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Willow Shields, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland


By Greg Klymkiw

"What the fuck!" bellowed an angry sweet-faced teen as she and her girlfriends stood outside of the theatre playing Hunger Games. "That was such a piece of shit. I didn't wanna see some bullshit PG-13 version. I wanted to see way more killing."

Other than her penchant for more intense degrees of sadistic violence as well as the litany of sailor-worthy epithets that continued to fly out of her mouth, you'd think, just looking at her, that she was a simple girl next door in Bible Belt Country.

This genteel young lady was, of course right about two things. The movie is indeed a "piece of shit" and the violence - given the subject matter, is all sizzle and no steak. It's kind of like a really long episode of Hannah Montana with killing or, if you will Battle Royale crossed with The Lizzie McGuire Movie.

Based on the first of a trilogy of bestsellers by Suzanne Collins (I skimmed the horrendous first novel and didn't bother with the others), The Hunger Games might have made for a decent picture if it came closer to Norman Jewison's Rollerball crossed with Kinji Fukasaku's aforementioned Battle Royale - the cool dystopian future vision of the former and the utterly insane ultra violence of the latter.

To make a dream picture like this, even with the dreadful Hunger Games script (co-written by Collins) would, however, have required something resembling a director which, helmer Gary Ross clearly isn't.

By now, there isn't a soul on the planet who doesn't know what The Hunger Games is about. This teen-friendly miasma of fetid science fiction cliches is set after an apocalypse wherein the world has been rebuilt as The Capitol, a right-wing city state with a bunch of satellite districts representing the working class.

Two kids from every district are selected by lottery to engage in a too-the-death combat game which is broadcast to all the citizens. We follow the idiotically named couple Katniss (Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) from the mining district as they wend their way through the proceedings, presumably fall in love and leave an open door for the sequel since they have displeased the government and Katniss has betrayed her love interest from before the games, Gale (Hemsworth).

Great! We get a Twilight-like love triangle to follow for two more miserable movies.

Gary Ross really can't direct. He's written a few decent screenplays in his time - notably Big, Dave and The Tales of Despereaux - but his directorial output to date includes the lame attempt at quirky mainstream psuedo-post-modernism Pleasantville and the horrendous biopic of the famous racehorse Seabiscuit (which made me long for the 1949 Shirley Temple and Barry Fitzgerald weepie The Story of Seabiscuit).

With The Hunger Games, Ross reaches his filmmaking nadir. He's yet another director who has absolutely no idea how to direct suspense and action. Full of annoying shaky-cam and endless, cheap-jack quick cuts, he's all bluster and not much else. He has no idea of geography, his camera placements are all a big mess and there is nary a thrilling moment in the entire movie.

For screen violence to really work - for it to have the power to alternately tantalize and sicken, a director needs to have a combination of craft and style. Ross has neither. Sam Peckinpah, for example, often shot his violence with a myriad of shots and numerous quick cuts, but the shots were exquisitely lit and/or composed and every single cut was like a dramatic beat - moving the film forward in terms of pace, but also conveying vital visual story information. The Hunger Games is edited in today's typical Attention Deficit Disorder style with a cornucopia of ugly shots. None of this has the power it could have had.

Add to the film's ineptitude a plodding 142-minute running time and I kept yearning for the Roger Corman 70s-style New World 80-90 minute running times and the often crisp, humour-infused direction so many of them were blessed with.

Neither Ross nor author Collins have anything resembling a sense of humour, so it's up to a couple of great supporting actors to occasionally liven things up.

Stanley Tucci as the host of the broadcast and Woody Harrelson as a hunger game mentor both offer more than a few laughs and really bad haircuts whilst Donald Sutherland in a small role as the Capitol's head-honcho is deliciously chilling and as such, comes close to capturing what the movie might have been if the rest of it had actually been directed by someone.

Our two leads have both acquitted themselves superbly in other movies - Lawrence in Winter's Bone and Hutcherson in Journey to the Centre of the Earth and its sequel Journey 2 The Mysterious Island. While they're both attractive here, our ability to feel anything at all for either character has more to do with their commanding screen presence as opposed to any of the lame dialogue forced into their memory banks and out of their mouths and the garbled action gymnastics they're put through by the woefully incompetent camera jockey Ross.

Nothing one says or does will stop the Hunger Games juggernaut. It's going to make a few thousand times as much as the GNP of all the Third World nations put together. This, sadly, has a lot to do with the genuinely brilliant marketing coupled with the increasingly susceptibility of younger audiences to outright crap.

As such, like the moronic Twilight films (save for the first half of the decently directed first instalment) Hunger Games is another example of how young audiences, so desperate to follow the Pied Piper of the current cultural dystopia plaguing our world, will happily, greedily, moronically and voraciously scarf down whatever bucket of excrement is placed before them.

They don't even need a spoon to scoop the fecal matter into their mouths. They bury their faces deep into the waste matter.

"Hunger Games" is in mega-wide release all over the world and is distributed in Canada by Alliance Films.

There's really no reason to present a Hunger Games clip here, so instead I'm presenting clips from much better movies with a similar theme. Kiddies, watch these instead. Don't give in to "The Man"!

Norman Jewison's Rollerball trailer:

Kinji Fukasaku's Battle Royale trailer: