Monday, March 26, 2012

A few comments on THE HUNGER GAMES.

Yes, I broke down and saw THE HUNGER GAMES.  And, no, I haven't seen the BATTLE ROYALE films--so I had no existing bias about comparing one battle-to-the-death vision to another.

It wasn't excellent and it wasn't terrible, either.  Just another opening film of a young-person's-book series (don't like using the word "franchise"), carried handily by Jennifer Lawrence and much of the supporting cast.

Given Gary Ross' track record as a MOR writer-then writer/director (BIG, DAVE, PLEASANTVILLE, SEABISCUIT), I wasn't expecting an action classic like the just-opened THE RAID: REDEMPTION, but THE HUNGER GAMES a la Ross is a proficient-enough film which suffers from some conceptual timidity.

Not having read the Suzanne Collins trilogy of books, I'm not completely aware of how much watering down was accomplished to make the current, reach-for-smelling-salts, edition of the MPAA grant a PG-13 rating.  But it was too easily noticeable that a key violent sequence (beginning of the Games) was cut in such a way that it looked like someone had presssed a Fast Forward button on a VCR/DVD player to avoid dwelling on messiness and particular details of murders (presuming this was the sequence subjected to additional editing by the British Board of Film Censors to achieve the UK equivalent to PG-13).

More on the editing---because a film can be edited digitally on computers doesn't mean that most of the shots have to be chopped to the length of time it would take a person to snap a frail wishbone.  Granted, Gary Ross isn't Michael Bay and the goings-on are intelligible, but it doesn't hurt to hold a shot/shots in a sequence more often for greater effect (such as in the scene involving Katniss and Peeta the night before the games begin).

In terms of the depictions of terror/anguish amongst the young people waiting to see if they will be asked to kill and/or die, I'm assuming that intensity was muted during the scripting stage to avoid uncomfortable parent/child conversations and/or screening walkouts.  And, in a film which depicts a lottery system for choosing participants not unlike the Vietman-era draft, the young people's reactions tend towards the stoic, it's-better-to-obey-than-rebel variety (with Katniss' younger sister being the major exception).  Perhaps to Lionsgate execs, it's a sensible creative decision given that THE HUNGER GAMES, on the day I saw it, played in a multiplex running a US Marines commercial exhorting potential applicants to run towards dangerous situations.

Kudos to Tom Stern (usually a cinematographer for Clint Eastwood) for not overindulging in the desaturated-color-during-shooting-or-in-postproduction process that he went to town on in Eastwood's recent J. EDGAR.

Finally, a footnote: Peter Watkins' 1971 film PUNISHMENT PARK isn't great as human drama (it's intended more as antiwar/antiauthority social commentary), but it's worth a DVD rental as a 60's Counterculture ancestor to THE HUNGER GAMES (the game the youthful participants play in PUNISHMENT PARK is a variant on Capturing the Flag).

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