Friday, March 23, 2012
Hunger Games Review
Okay, I just saw a midnight show of The Hunger Games. I’ll admit right up front that I never read the book; also that I came to the flick with a real axe to grind. You see, there’s this murderous Japanese movie from 2000 called Battle Royale, and when I saw the trailers from Games, I said to myself, this looks like a giant rip-off of that....and it is.
Now just because something’s a ripoff, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be bad. But doing a good ripoff of Royale would be a pretty tall order. It’s an absolutely amazing piece of work...hard to believe that something so visceral and ill-tempered was helmed by a guy in his seventies, namely, Kinji Fukasaku. The movie was so in-your-face ferocious that it never even got a US release, even on video, until now...somebody’s come up with a US version to cash in on Games, which is only Goddamn effing fair, since Games isn’t a patch on Royale. It doesn’t have any teeth, and it’s slow enough to let you think about the premise (and a lot of other stupid shit besides), whereas Royale had the sense to throw you into the horrible thick of things pretty quick.
The central conceit in both films is that kids are being forced to fight and hunt each other to the death, Most Dangerous Game style, by evil adults. In Royale, this is happening because Japan sucks in the future, and kids are getting increasingly rowdy in school, and these nasty tournaments, held on an island, are a ploy by the government to make the kiddies behave. Now, that’s just kinda wacky...I don’t know why anyone would do that. But as I said, we get to the killing right quick, and the carnage is so persuasive that you find yourself forgetting about how senseless it all is.
In Hunger Games, we’re in some sort of strange alternate future America called Panem, where a big revolt was put down, and all the various districts have to send a girl and a boy to slaughter and be slaughtered in the titular games. Why they’re called the Hunger Games, we never find out, although that sort of stuff doesn’t bother me too much...why is Straw Dogs called Straw Dogs, anyway? I am bothered by consistent vagueness and arbitrariness, however,...and this flick relies heavily on both. The future is a ridiculous mishmash of goofy costumes, hair-styles, and awful production designs, unleavened by a lot of special effects that aren’t any good. The movie really looks like ass...the photography sucks. Everything is fully lit and there’s a whole whole lot of shaky-cam, which has got to be the most tiresome cliche in cinematic history. Among other things, it makes all the shitty production design look even shittier, and it neuters the action sequences.
The story has young Katniss(?) Evergreen (Jennifer Lawrence) taking the place of her little sister when the latter is picked out in the Hunger Games Lottery...Katniss winds up being shipped out with her male counterpart, Peeta(!) Mellark, (Josh Hutcherson), who has a secret crush on her. They come under the wing of a Hunger Games vet (Woody Harrelson), who’s been assigned to show them the ropes so that they’ll put on a better show. They get to the capitol and engage in some ridiculous training. At one point, Katniss is presented to a bunch of upper-crust assholes, whereupon she shoots the apple out of their roasted pig’s mouth. The audience seemed to think this was just great, although I found myself thinking...why would the assholes allow this chick a clear shot at them with her bow? Moreover, all the powers that be decide her behavior is really swell...puzzling.
There’s a bunch of puppy love between Katniss and Peeta which slows the film down...it seemed like it was nearly a hour and a quarter or so until we finally got the running around. And even though the film really dragged up till that point, there were a whole lot of premises which weren’t established...do the Games take place under some kind of dome? Do the bad guys hem the kids in with actual forest fires, or are the forest fires mere illusions? Can the bad guys just project matter into any point in the arena? Can they generate giant evil pitbulls out of nothing?
All the stupidity is televised, of course...which is sheerly ludicrous, about as dumb as that stuff with the cameras salted about in the jungle in Tropic Thunder. At least that was a comedy, though. In this flick we’re asked to believe that there are cameras literally everywhere (because that’s what you’d need to televise the running around), including airborne shaky cams which follow you or fly on ahead, looking back at you. There isn’t even a stab at rationalizing things. But I don’t think the braintrusts behind this mess even realized they had a problem. Some of the silliness is real James Fenimore Cooper stuff. At one point, our heroine has to climb a tree to get away from pursuers. They have bows and arrows, but they can’t shoot her for some reason. One of them tries to climb the tree and fails because he's holding a sword, although he could've just shoved the sword into his belt. The baddies fall asleep under the tree in full view of our heroine. She doesn’t try anything because she falls asleep too. When she wakes up, she still doesn’t try anything, even though the malefactors are still asleep. Then her attention is directed (by a cute little sympathetic black girl) to a giant wasp’s nest---full of genetically altered wasps--- which she somehow hasn’t noticed before. Katniss decides to drop the nest on the sleepyheads by sawing---with the serrated top of her Rambo knife---through the branch it’s hanging from. Even though she’s only about two feet from the nest, the wasps let her saw through four inches of wood. Eventually the nest drops and the wasps do a number on her foes, but you really have to wonder why they didn’t do the same to her...and so on.
The action is repeatedly interrupted by young love, and when it does happen, it’s miserably directed by Gary Ross. His sole idea about action direction seems to be shaky-cam, and he uses it much less skillfully than most guys who wallow in it. The fights are generally hard to follow, and the climactic fight is the worst. There isn’t any good violence, and the material cries out for it. Ultimately there’s some arbitrary twaddle about the guys who run the games changing the rules to let our young lovers escape, then changing them back, then changing them back again...
I did like some of the North Carolina locations, however.
Bottom line...watch Battle Royale. It’s fast and real ballsy. You’d be vastly better off with Apocalypto, too. Or this Korean flick which I just watched called War of the Arrows. There’s also too much shaky cam in it, but it’s much better employed, and the film truly rips, and there’s a ton of bitchin’ Manchu armor...