SPOILER ALERT. Sorry I don’t give a shit. I’m not here to protect your eyeballs. Stop reading now if you haven’t read the book or seen the film. I am going to speak openly and if you send me a comment about “spoiling it” I am going to review that comment like it’s football season.
I don’t normally review movies (except that time I reviewed the classic 90s rollerblade film “Airborne” and classic 90s beach volleyball movie “Sideout”). That’s because I am a film grad. I went to USC film school and for years I became so critical of films that I didn’t enjoy watching them, no one felt comfortable liking a movie around me in fear I’d tell them they were wrong and so forth. In an effort to not ruin everything I liked about film, I got back to my roots and learned to love dumb movies with holes in them. I’m the bearfighter now. I answer to no one. I think Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist is awesome. I thought Scott Pilgrim was hilarious. I don’t particularly love Michael Cera, either. One can’t live of Shawshank Redemption alone (although when AMC has nothing to put on, they sure make you try).
That’s why before I start this, I liked the Hunger Games movie. I liked it like girls like that really nice guy who bought them dinner, held the door open for them and was too nervous to kiss them. Then they went home and drunk dialed a total asshole (or a guy who at least has some edge *cough cough, Draper*) which in this case, meant going home and watching Lord of the Rings.
I read somewhere the budget of this film was like 84 million dollars and while it’s distasteful to call that low budget, I’m calling it low budget. This movie felt about as epic as a walk-off home run in your company softball league.
I read the books. My wife read them and told me it was about the future and a mostly-hot girl who is hell with a bow and arrow and she gets stuck in a battle where she’s forced to kill 23 other kids while starving to death and hallucinating. I stopped reading books for the most part when I graduated college because I was a compulsive reader of the classics and at a certain point, you just burn out, can quote Fitzgerald to Chaucer and say, I’m out. Let’s watch Selling New York and maybe eat candy in bed hungover. I’m checking out, thanks for the memories Old Man and the Sea. Sorry about that shark. That shit sucked.
Reading the books is the worst thing you can do in preparation for the Hunger Games. It’s the Hunger Games equivalent of not hydrating before you hit the arena. If you read the book, you will know how much they left out of the film, couldn’t find a way around or just said fuck it let’s get paid.
Like I said, I liked this. I could have loved it and I am pretty sure if you were on the fence, it’s time to get real about things with the Bearfighter because I’m here to help. Let’s get specific.
The first act of the film was unwatchable. The shaky cam shit was so brutal (especially in IMAX because I go big or go home) that I thought I was going to have a seizure, which is only cool at Hollywood parties. The former film student in me knows this was to make you feel the tension and claustrophobia of being lassoed into a death match as a pre-teen, but I paid good money to see this film. It’d help if we could see it. I mean, I know Jennifer Laurence is a good actress, she carried the film, but I need to see more of her face and less of an extreme eyeball close up shaking more than Northridge in the 90s to know what the fuck is going on.
Kudos to Elizabeth Banks for nailing Effie. She showed up for work everyday. People actually laughed at some of the shit she said which was great because her character made it onto the screen. There’s no excuse for this not being more widespread, the author helped write the film and the cast had good actors. So, good work Elizabeth Banks. In this and in 40 Year Old Virgin.
The film was too damn short. Most of the time, people see a 2 plus hour film and think that’s going to cover it. Only this was a book told in the first person. We needed more scenes to mimic the insights we got in the book. Like, they barely touched on why Katniss’ father’s death made her mother a worthless sack of shit. They barely touched on her Peeta relationship. By the time they finish the series, at this rate, the Peeta/Gale thing is going to be more watered down than a drink at a hotel.
Remember in the book the psychology of the electric fence in 12? It was never on, but she always like listened to make sure. Remember how hunting was hard? Remember how everyone was basically starving all the time? They are in the forest for 3 seconds, they are all well fed, Gale even had Tiger Beat magazine hair. Food was such a big deal in the book from hunting, to putting your name in the bag more for grain, to eating crazy shit in the Capitol to starving to death eight times in the arena.
They glossed over all of it. Which brings me to my next point.
This movie needed to be a hard R. I know why they didn’t. Hell, I’d have done the same thing if I were them and their 150+ opening weekend shows it worked. But things were hardcore in the damn book. People were getting gutted. People were starving. The games were epic.
This didn’t feel epic. It felt like 10 seconds of fast-cutting carnage to open the games, some random dicking around in the forest and then some weird cheap CG dogs (that were not anything like the “muttations with Victor faces in the books). I mean when Cato (who was awesome and a USC student) was getting chewed up, it looked like he was being eaten by Disney’s Snow Buddies. I mean in the book Rue was a fucking rabid dog chewing Cato (who is an awesome Trojan warrior) like he was a dog toy. It dragged out all night, but here, Katniss just blasts him.
By the same token, when Katniss climbs the tree and everyone tries to shoot her, it’s like “damn, it’s impossible, let’s wait”. Seriously? The is THE HUNGER GAMES. You telling me you can’t kill a girl in a tree? In the book, it made sense why, she could climb way, way high, to the point it was crazy. But the movie was on the cheap and that didn’t visually read. It just looked like they were lazy.
Lionsgate make some cheap movies. That said, they had to know this was going big. Could have been a little over 3 hours and double the budget and they’d have made money. It needed it. It needed more immersion.
They scrapped the whole rooftop. They didn’t cover the Avoxes. The parade was like Star Wars Episode I bad. I thought Jar Jar Binx was going to show up and play a banjo. They didn’t show the awesome shower Katniss used in the Capitol. In a film called The Hunger Games, they barely showed any food. Haymitch was only drunk for five minutes. In the book he was so hammered you never knew what team he played for. He drank white liquor and started the revolution. In this he was a fucking cheerleader. I read “sweetheart” as condescending in the book. It was endearing in the film. Their suite looked like it was decorated by Z Gallerie. Where was her prep team? I know they had 2 minutes, but they kind of are a big deal in the books.
Even at the end, when Cato is saying some crazy trippy shit and I was going “nice, here’s gonna be the haymaker”, they just throw him to a quick death. If they took liberties with the source material to explain tracker jackers and such, why not create some scenes showing how Cato was a death bringing, how hard killing him was. I don’t know.
In the end, I liked the film. It was fun. I liked seeing the sets and the interpretation, but it just didn’t feel epic. Harry Potter films seemed epic. Lord of the Rings were so epic that it seemed normal people showed up at the theater dressed like hobbits. Sort of normal at least. When I saw this, people cheered when Thresh (who barely existed in the film) killed Clove. I was like, really? I mean, I was glad like most humans were, but contrast that with how people reacted when Will Smith punched the alien in the face and said “welcome to earth” or even when the goofy ass dog dives out of the way of the fireball in Independence Day and you feel like, man, we’ve lowered our bar.
Those freak out moments are amazing when you see a big movie opening night. This movie just didn’t deserve that. It was a cool adaptation on an epic book. Not an epic adaptation. The most epic thing was Wes Bentley’s beard. Can’t wait to do that for Halloween.
The Bearfighter is just bummed because critics have largely let this film off the hook, and in my mind, it’s because newspapers are failing and this is going to be a big part of their lives for 3 more films (yes 3, not 2). If you shit on Hunger Games now, you miss out on years of coverage that will attempt to keep newspapers in business (like the new pay portal on LA Times? thought so). They shouldn’t have pulled so many punches. It was “good” like mid-priced bourbon. It wasn’t a mind-blower, which the book clearly was.
I just think audiences deserve the product to live up to the hype. The most epic part of the Hunger Games was the trailer for Prometheus before the movie. By the same token they are going to spend ridiculous amounts of money to make another bad Spiderman flick like a couple years after we thought we were done with Spiderman flicks that had Tobey Maguire dance numbers. Couldn’t Hunger Games, based on some really entertaining and epic novels, have been given the same big budget treatment?
Cue the hate mail, but bear in mind, as a rabid media consumer, I will probably be there opening night for Catching Fire. In doing so I am part of the problem. JUST A STATISTIC, YO. Kudos to the marketing team for hitting a home run. Prometheus can’t come any sooner.