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"The Hunger Games" Fails To Satisfy

Dylan Roche
April 4, 2012
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By Dan Gvozden

Earlier this year, modern television sank to what was quite possibly its lowest point in an effort to gain viewers. On "Fear Factor," contestants were challenged to dive in vats of cow blood and pass cow hearts to teammates by mouth. Unfortunately, this disgusting and tasteless episode doesn't stand out against what has become a sea of appalling and culture-warping programming on American television every hour.

But an even more disquieting world is depicted in Gary Ross's film adaptation of Suzanne Collins' popular novel "The Hunger Games,” where children are selected by a totalitarian government to fight to the death in a giant televised arena. Like any good sci-fi story, "The Hunger Games" attempts to present a world just familiar enough for its audience to recognize a reflection of their own society.

The biggest problem with "The Hunger Games” is lazy storytelling. This flaw is present in the source material, though in Collins’ book, it is slightly lessened by first-person narration. However, with no way to access the inner-monologue of the main protagonist, tenacious Katniss Everdeen, this lazy storytelling becomes unavoidable and inexcusable.

The greatest horror in "The Hunger Games" should be the terrifying situation of these children. Each one of them has to ask the question, "Am I willing to kill to survive?" Yet, for most of these children, that question is easily answered with monstrous efficiency. It is almost solely in the film's heroine that we see a character struggling with the question of survival.

But every time that Katniss must choose between killing or being killed, the writers create a way for the character to avoid the choice. This becomes particularly frustrating in the final act, where the rules of the world become looser. It would also seem that creatures and characters are invented out of nowhere to avoid difficult character moments and create a few more plot twists.

This type of storytelling undermines the entire satire "The Hunger Games" attempts to portray. Instead of witnessing the horrific decision the beloved heroine must make, the audience is meant to enjoy the roller-coaster ride of her attempts to win the games, despite the horrible toll involved; in doing so, “The Hunger Games” puts the audience at a level just as despicable as the very people (ridiculously depicted as tall versions of munchkin Lady Gagas) who have forced these children to battle in the first place.

This lazy storytelling isn't done any favors by Ross's filmmaking, particularly his control of the camera. The camera acts as a defibrillator to this corpse of a film by swinging around rapidly for no explicable reason. This is particularly apparent in the opening of the film, when visual clarity could have helped to establish the world in which the story is set.

On top of this scattered and jumbled visual style is a hyperactive editing technique that ensures every second of the film is confusing and disorienting. Flashbacks weave in and out of the tale without explanation, serving only to titillate fans of the novel.

The film's actual visuals are also inelegant and unimpressive. Moments meant to induce awe, as expressed by the characters in the film, never quite rise to that level. When the film does rely on computer-generated effects, they range in quality from dated to downright unfinished. This gives the film a cheap and unimaginative feel, a strange sight for a blockbuster of this magnitude.

The sole heart of the film lies in the character of Katniss. It is understandable why people, especially young women, can identify with this strong-willed and resourceful girl who is coming to terms with her physicality and sexuality and how they serve her as weaknesses and weapons. Jennifer Lawrence is perfectly cast as Katniss; her only shortcoming is she is possibly too beautiful for the character. But her strength is her ability to easily command grace both on and off the battlefield. Lawrence is also able to take mediocre dialogue and writing and give it a unique soul bound to connect with audiences.

"The Hunger Games" isn't a terrible or offensive film, like its peers "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" or "Twilight" — it’s just rather forgettable, which is saying a lot about a film where children fight each other to the death. It’s just another rollercoaster ride with a clever premise that never elicits the emotional response such subject matter should.

It might be full of sound and fury but, as the saying goes, it signifies nothing.

To read more of Dan Gvozden's movie reviews, check out his website, Grind My Reels.

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