So is the movie as good as so many are saying?
I liked the book a lot. You can see my review here: http://johndbrown.com/2010/09/amano-jasons-deli-and-the-hunger-games/
Yes, but is the movie as good as the book?
Let’s start with the beginning of the movie. During the first 10 or 15 minutes I was so annoyed and angry that I almost rose up out of my seat to shout “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” at the screen.
Was this because the movie wasn’t faithful to the book?
Because the actors sucked?
Because the popcorn triggered a terrible case of restless leg syndrome?
No, no, and no.
Then, why, John? Why?
Because the director, Gary Ross, who wrote the wonderful Seabiscuit and Big, just couldn’t trust the material, the story, to work its magic. No, he thought that it would be a really good idea to MAKE ME SICK by overexaggerating and overusing HANDHELD CAMERA MOVEMENT. You know, the idea that if you confuse the viewer and make them uncomfortable, that will help them FEEL the wrongness, the stress, and the fear of the situation.
A common technique for doing this is the tilted shot. Tilt the shot just a little and viewers subconsciously get the idea that something is wrong. You don’t notice it. The movie plays on, but you do feel that something is wrong, that trouble is brewing somewhere or someone is lying. A similar technique is used in action scenes. To help the viewer feel the “speed” of the action, they give us quick cuts. But the traditional tilted shot and quick cuts preserve understanding. They’re more of an unconscious effect. You still see the movie unfold and understand it.
However, some directors in the last few years, maybe with Spielberg’s use of this in the beginning of Saving Private Ryan (is there a movie history buff out there who can confirm?), decided that if a little was good, good golly, ten times that would be a LOT better. So instead of realizing that action sequences like the one in the beginning of Casino Royale or the fights in Inception, ones you can easily follow, are the kinds audiences want, they figure they need to push the shots and cuts until audiences can’t make heads or tails of what’s happening.
Instead of giving the audience tremendous thrills and suspense, they give them confusion.
Wow, that’s a good trade off.
And now, Gary Ross, who seems to have inexplicably bought into this, decides that what he needs to do is not only deliver confusion but nausea and annoyance as well.
Stop, people. Stop. PLEASE! A little spice enhances a dish and takes it to the next level. But when you dump a cupful of thyme on my plate, all you do is make me want to gag.
I’m not the only one who noticed. My 14 year old and my 19 year old noticed it as well and were bugged by it. It got so bad I told myself if it didn’t stop, I was going to walk out and ask for my money back. Luckily, Ross toned his nonsense down and finally let the actors and story take center stage.
Which is what he should have done from the beginning because the acting was great. I loved Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) as Katniss. Loved Willow Shields as Primrose and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. Stanley Tucci playing Ceasar Flickerman, the blue-haired talk show host, was perfect. And the story was indeed a faithful translation of the book. I’m sure a huge part of that is due to the fact that Suzanne Collins, the author of the novel, helped write the screen play. The other writers were Gary Ross and Billy Ray.
They did change a few minor things like Buttercup the cat is now black and white (I’m so utterly devastated I won’t be right for years), and Primrose gives the mockingjay pin to Katniss instead of Madge. They added scenes with the President of Panem. They cut some scenes with minor characters and some twists in the plot. For those who read the book, even though the lost and changed parts added texture to the story, I think you’ll still be very pleased. For those who haven’t read the book, I think you’ll be wowed and sobered by the end. You’ll think about the Romans and their gladiators. You’ll wonder how we can we humans can do things like this. And I think you’ll feel a great indignation take root in your breast against the villains who control the world of the story.
So, the move is a great experience that would have been over-the-top excellent if the director hadn’t marred it with way too much of something that should be used as spice instead of the main course. Nevertheless, I recommend it. If you like action and drama, I think you’ll love the movie and the book. And hopefully my comments above will innoculate you to the opening scenes because you know to expect them going in.
EDIT: Matthais Stork writes about “Chaos Cinema: The Decline and Fall of Action Filmmaking“. And his response to his critics. Anne Billson of The Guardian agrees that “Action sequences should stir, not just shake“. But here’s a fellow trying to defend chaos cinema in a way that reminds me way too much of those I met in my English degree who assumed that the highest reading was one that focused on meaning, one that assumed the story was really not a story about people to be experienced, but a clever puzzle that needed to be decoded.
EDIT: The issue with chaos cinema is that it replaces showing with telling.
It presents “big fight” and “exciting chase” instead of showing the big fight and exciting chase. It’s similar to voice over narration: using the soundtrack to tell us about what’s happening instead of showing it to us. But it goes beyond even that because at least the narration told us what was happening. Chaos cinema at its most extreme doesn’t do even that. It replaces clarity with confusion. And this is its biggest downfall.
For someone to react with emotion to a situation, they must (1) understand what’s going on AND (2)believe that the situation is real. The moment you deliver confusion, you take away one of the two necessary antecedents, and prevent the audience from responding emotionally. They now can only respond intellectually, e.g. Ah, I congnitively see that we are having a fight; I have no idea what’s happening and how that affects the guy I’m rooting for, but I see we’ve inserted the “fight” concept. (For those interested in the excellent discussion of emotion and stories, you’ll want to read Jenefer Robinson’s DEEPER THAN REASON: Emotions and it’s role in literature, music, and art.)
Take it too far and you remove the second antecedent as well because now, instead of reacting to the story, you’re thinking about the camera man. Which is what happened with me when I just about came out of my chair to shout at the screen at the beginning of HUNGER GAMES. And what happened to half a dozen others I know who couldn’t look up because it would make them dizzy, and another half dozen who did look up and got sick.
Chaos cinema trades in the super powers of cinematic storytelling for a bunch of rocks.