Before seeing the intended feature film, two movie previews juxtaposed together revealed that the most obvious, and perhaps best, trailer mash-up for this year will be “Twilight: Breaking Wind: Part Two” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” That my computer-literacy tops out at around updating a blog stops me from creating the fan-trailer myself—well, that and I now I feel the joke has been acknowledged and drained of its comedy. Measurably more shocking, and for the first time in a long time, two hours later I found myself in a very, very small circle of dissenters and carping faultfinders holding an abysmally low opinion on the year’s first megahit: “The Hunger Games.”
It’s been several excursions to the movie theater since I’ve been subjected to a film trying to say so much so incoherently. As if floating in outer space, I could see the vastness of an idea yet it all seemed empty and for the longest two-hours suspended in existentialism since “Synecdoche, New York,” I never found my footing. Fantasy and sci-fi films can be wonderful with their ability to transplant the audience in a new universe that can tell us so much more about our own. Like tourists in a new country, movie audiences witness new customs and people—each of which can make us adapt to something better or at least force us to defend our own way of life. Alas, the world of “The Hunger Games” makes less sense than Candyland and swaggers with more pretension than Cranium.
Shot with the standard “dystopian future” camera lens, the universe is most prominently ruled by a massive, aimless, vindictive government. The government, seeking to punish its own people for a failed rebellion…unnecessary exposition…so now there’s an annual Death Sport event. Unlike “Gamer,” “Running Man,” “Battle Royale,” “Death Race 2000” and the aptly-named “Death Sport” among other movies, the TV-event of the future is not just allowed, but actually orchestrated, by the federal government. Is this a commentary on the shows featured on C-Span and their relation to Roman gladiators? Sure, why not. It’s not like you’ll find a stronger message.
More perplexing than the origins, the televised “Hunger Games” are mandatory viewing—so it can’t really be said that this society of the future itself is bloodthirsty. Nor can it be said that television has degenerated into the ultimate low of humanity—a slide that started with “Real World” or possibly “The Newlywed Game.” And since the young “tributes” are mostly a lottery bunch, it can’t be said that the society is obsessed with fame. So the kids aren’t psychopaths, they aren’t volunteers, they aren’t professionals, they aren’t confused or scared and we end up with no real point, theme, or motivation. It’s the kind of ideological mess that can really make one appreciate “EDtv.”
“The Hunger Games” is a conglomeration of half-articulated ideas. For every point the story makes about power, sacrifice, rebellion, morality, hope, love, violence and maturity, there are explicit lines, characters and moments interrupting, reversing or negating the reflection. Beyond that, no character is forced to confront any fear, desire, loneliness, guilt, jealousy or anger. Sadness is summed up with two-minutes of ‘the weepies’ and promptly forgotten.
Accepting morality? Comes quick, lingers and is ultimately unnecessary. While real teenagers, as bloated with angst as they may be, see themselves as 7-feet tall and bulletproof, “The Hunger Games” features the opposite: young people instantly accepting of death, yet not needing to. Everybody’s life is just beginning, yet the characters have no plans, desires or expectations at all. Basically, they have neither reason to do, nor opinion about, anything.
I suppose some book-reader will say something along the lines that the winner of the competition brings food to their town, but a fight for gluttony hardly seems worth appreciating. Frankly, I was disappointed that overweight adolescents were so under-represented, as they make up nearly 20% of the teenage population in this Pizza Bagel nation.
As a film, there are no visceral treats to be had. Costumes are hand-me-downs from “The Fifth Element.” Unexplainable technology comes late and abrupt. There are absurd coincidences. The characters do things because the plot calls for it. Woody Harrelson is pointless with a level of self-importance only Woody Harrelson can muster. There are more absurd coincidences. Action scenes are filmed with the schizophrenia of Paul Greengrass, where visuals are so blurred that only the stock “shink!” sound of a knife being unsheathed clues the audience into the idea that a weapon has entered the fray.
Again, though, there is no reality in “The Hunger Games.” There are no real people, many of whom are just explicitly given numbers for the virtues of narrative dehumanization. There are no real rules or direction. “Important” elements such as the much-sought sponsors are disregarded as little more than inconsistent deus ex machinas. Is this about commercialism? There’s not a brand to be seen. Is it about loyalty? Not a betrayal worth note. Is this a tale of wilderness survival? No, because they are murderous kids. Is this a tale of surviving high school? No, because there are conveniently-timed killer wasps, poison berries and monsters. Is this about losing innocence? No, the protagonist does nothing the least bit questionable. Does anything unexpected happen at any time at all? No.
And so in what is likely to be my most controversial review since that Justin Beiber movie, I can only remember disappointment, confusion and boredom while watching “The Hunger Games.” Here is a movie that could have been so much bigger if only it had more focus. Too serious to be fun and too simple to be smart. Too broad and too thin. Familiar ideas and bland characters. B-actors and D-dialogue. So despite the cerebral yearnings, “The Hunger Games” is still just candy, albeit with a different name.