I finally sat down and watched the latest phenomena in franchise filmmaking, The Hunger Games. Not since the beginning of the Twilight Saga has a book that it seems no one has read or heard of become such a huge spectacle.
Before we dive into this, let me share some background info first. Of course, I haven’t read the books, in fact I hadn’t even heard of the books until the movie went into production and the spoiler reports hit the internet some time last year. I’m a newb to this in pretty much every sense.
After avoiding the movie in theaters, I finally checked it out on DVD because enough people whose tastes I agree with told me it was good.
Immediately into the movie, I was confused. Where does this take place? Are we in the future? The past? Is this our world or some fantasy world? If this is the future, why does it look like depression era West Virginia?
The biggest complaint I have against the film is the complete lack of world building. We are told that there are 12 Districts, but given no context as to what that means or how large a District is? We are given nothing about the socio-political climate. We are shown that the people of District 12 are poor, or at least they appear poor by the standard of living here in this country that we have all enjoyed since the 1960’s.
It’s not until much later in the film that we see the rich and the powerful, and only once do we even see another District and it looks nearly identical to District 12. So, we again are asking ourselves “What is really going on here?” Are all the Districts poor? Are the Districts being oppressed? Is the government corrupt?
As the “Reaping” begins we are shown a short film about a war that happened nearly a century ago. It’s all very vague and unclear. We still don’t know who fought the war or why. We think the Districts lost, but we don’t know what the war was about. I’m sure more of this is in the book, and I wish the filmmakers would have tried harder to put it in.
The first act of the film is the weakest part, both in story and direction. The story lacks for all the missing background and setup information. The direction is questionable at best, the first act is plagued by excessive handheld camera effect that does nothing but disorient the viewer and give me a headache. I’m not sure what the director was thinking, but it is enough to turn away some people who were new to the series, like myself.
Even stranger is that as the story progresses the effect diminishes. When the 2nd and 3rd act begin and the action picks up, where a handheld camera might be more useful, it’s not there. It’s almost as if they were teaching the camera operator how to hold the camera as they were filming.
Once we leave the District, the story picks up and we get introduced to many new characters. Most are dressed like extras from a Lady Gaga video. It’s clear with the design aspects, especially the costume design, that there is a social commentary here, but its lost in the shuffle and the loss of the backstory. However, with no frame of reference for any of this commentary, it becomes meaningless.
The second and third acts are stronger, featuring more action and the hints of a larger story at work. The ending leaves you confused. It’s no doubt referencing the missing backstory, that only those who have read the book will know. We are supposed to be believing that a bad guy has been humiliated and punished, but what we get is an old man who seems very upset about the state of his rose bushes.
What we have is a story that seems to be faithful to the events of it’s source material, but is lacking any of the true theme or message that is, hopefully, a part of the novel.
There is enough in the movie to make me interested in reading the books, but a film needs to be more than a trailer for the book. Especially one that is nearly 2 and a half hours long and has a multi million dollar budget. Fans of the series and potential fans who would be brought in to the series, deserve a better film than this.