The Hunger Games – Art 1/5 Ent 2/5 Worth 1/5
Good gravy. The title must be alluding to starving the audience while constantly dangling the prospect of something interesting ever over the horizon, because otherwise, this humble movie reviewer who’s never read the book has no goddamn clue what hunger has to do with this. If it’s an allusion to some fascistic silencing of the hungry plebs, that’s kiiiiind of neato. The same kind of neato you experience when you figure out the connections in Pokemon mythology. After the placebo-esque Twilight movies provided a scientific control that determined audiences will gush over any empty nonsense, it’s mere muscle memory to gush over this ‘film’. I put ‘film’ with hesitant quotes, because I don’t think a projector launching flaming rhinoceros vomit at a screen constitutes ‘film’ but rather some new art form to fill our Friday evenings.
In a vaguely rendered Nickelodeon version of an Orwellian dystopia, Jennifer Lawrence trades in the Ozarks of Winter’s Bone for futuristic / fascistic West Virginia as Katniss Everdeen (the parody names for this are just too easy – Katnip Evergreen?), an avatar for angsty youth who overcomes her poverty-stricken Appalachian existence to beat up bad guys in outdoorsy gladiatorial combat for reality television (the production values for which make the Academy Award red carpet coverage look explosively interesting). The politics and social critique, as far as it exists in the movie, is superficial and puerile, and almost wholly non-existent. There’s nothing that should command any interest here other than the fact people actually see something profound in this film. As Kyle Smith writes in his New York Post review, if anything it celebrates reality television. The narrative, adapted by one of the writers of Volcano (the breakthrough avant garde epic that had the most laughable anti-racism message until 2004′s Crash, where ash on people’s skin convinced them not to hate each other for racial differences any more), makes boilerplate Hollywood action fare look complex and fastidious. You can match the plot points to fingers on your hand. And you can watch as meaning slips through those fingers like sand in a wind that both sucks and blows.
I’m absolutely positive Jennifer Lawrence has more to offer than this, and the inclusion of the always brilliant Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, and Toby Jones gives me deeply conflicted feelings for dismissing it, and filmmaker Gary Ross pulled off an incredibly well conceived mind-fuck in Pleasantville, and I’ve even heard good things about the source material (the young adult novel written by Suzanne Collins) … but this movie is fucking stupid. There’s really no possible explanation or better method to really elucidate this point than blunt insult. It belongs on the SyFy network with Megashark and Giant Octopus and Alien vs. Hunter. Almost 2 whole minutes (that dovetails ungracefully into following scenes) are devoted to mourning the death of a character who showed up only a few minutes earlier. The elaborate universe easily explained in a novel feels like it’d take 4 hours to fully flesh out here, and without the explanation it’s forecast looks glib. The author’s ‘eureka moment’ – experienced while changing channels between the Iraq War and reality television – is quite telling. A very shallow The Truman Show meets In the Army Now. One of the most pivotal scenes in the entire film is about Jennifer Lawrence’s big triumphal quadriga entrance donning a futuristic Star Wars prequel hair-do. That’s what this movie – and I’d venture to say it’s appeal – is all about.
Will not play the Hunger Game again.