Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Hunger Gamezzz

The Hunger Games editors Stephen Mirrione and Juliette Welfling are in trouble. I'd be amazed if they ever work again. Assigned the task of cutting together the first in a potential trilogy of films based on best-selling novels, they've gone and made the classic, schoolboy editing error: they've left in all the stuff they meant to take out and taken out all the stuff they meant to leave in. As a result, one hundred and forty-four minutes of tedious cabbage have found their way into cinemas, while the important, exciting and explanatory bits of a potentially interesting film are headed for landfill.

At least I assume that's what's happened. How else to explain a film which spends seventy dull minutes preparing us, and its protagonists, for a thrilling second half set inside a game where 24 teenagers must fight each other to the death, only to deliver an even more boring seventy minutes in which almost nothing set up in the first half is paid off? How will Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) change throughout this journey? She won't. What lessons will the other, one-dimensional teens learn from their trials? None. How will Peter - sorry, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) - utilise his special skill (the uncanny ability to, uh, throw heavy objects)? He won't, despite making a big deal of it in the never-ending training sequence. Although he will, improbably and pointlessly, paint his face to look like a tree, which he learned to do WHILE HE WAS A CAKE DECORATOR.
The film's fatal problem is that none of its characters have anything approaching any kind of moral complexity. Some are good, some are bad, some are odd, but at no point do any of them appear to change or learn anything. They don't even have any kind of interesting relationships with each other, apart from Peeta's attempts to get Katniss to fancy him, and that results in some potentially dramatic awkwardness that's never addressed. It's hard to invest in any of them emotionally, and considering they've been thrust into an incredibly highly morally and ethically charged situation, that's unforgivable.

Katniss is at least a refreshingly Strong Female CharacterTM, and the script does well not to make a big deal about her being a girl and kicking a lot of boy ass, but she's surrounded by cardboard cut-outs. Her mother gazes around gormlessly without explanation, her mentor (Woody Harrelson) is a drunk without explanation but not enough to make it a plot-worthy character trait, and her rivals in the Games are lunkheaded asshats without explanation (why do they believe Peeta's claims to be leading them to Katniss in order to kill her when they know he's in love with her? Why do they give up trying to skewer her with arrows so easily when they've got her surrounded up a tree?). Even Toby Jones turns up in a daft wig but doesn't do anything - again, without explanation.
This man has no idea why he is here

The standard response to much of this seems to be that "it's explained in the book". Well, that pissed me off with Harry Potter and it pisses me off now. It's unacceptable to assume that your filmgoing audience is either a) painstakingly familiar with the source material or b) happy to pop to Waterstone's straight after the film to buy the book in order to fill in the blanks. That's a fail right there: back to Adaptation School you go!

Lesson One:
There are exciting moments threatened throughout the film, but when they come they're either over in a flash or shot by a cameraman who seems to be inside a washing machine, such is the clarity of the action scenes. And once they're over, it's back to the tramping-through-the-woods that worked so well in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Alternatively some utterly bonkers deus ex machina will be conjured up - I won't spoil things too much but I was forced to scrawl this in my notebook during the screening:
Still, none of this matters. The Hunger Games will find its audience in the huge amount of people who've enjoyed the books, and all power to them. Perhaps they can explain why it's called The Hunger Games, because the only hunger I experienced was the desire to gnaw my own arm off out of sheer boredom.


  1. The flaws are already present in the book, even though it is a page turner. Does the school of screen adaptation have a day where they teach how to improve on poor templates?

  2. I've been reading reviews of the book, and it sounds like it has just as little to say about the morals and ethics of the Hunger Games. I guess its a kids' book, simply because it features kids. Killing each other. Without any sort of human commentary.

    I'm not sure where the general panic over this series came from. I'd like to shake the hands of whichever marketing team pulled this one over on the normally non-reading adolescent demographic.

  3. Thank you Incredible Suit for not putting a trailer link in your great review. The Hunger Games plot line resonates with the story of ancient Olympic games when boxers wore gloves of leather interwoven with strips of lead so that it was often a case of win or die. The gloves were all they had on. All competitors were naked for all the events.
    Which would you go to see? The ancient games or The Hungry Games?

    1. The ancient games...but only if we get to see your Tony Cox.

  4. Touche. Very good Monpong.

    There is many a fine tune played on an old fiddle.

    I think the potential for baton change disaster would put me off the relay race!

  5. Brilliant review, spot on! Wish I'd read this instead of the Empire and Total Film ones they seem to have seen a completely different and much better film.

  6. Seeing such a mediocre film being a huge box office success like THIS, while having witnessed other equalliy mediocre films - like say John Carter - which would be deserving it much more, makes me wanna cry und puke at the same time.

    Review by the way is ace, way more enjoyable than the film itself.