THE HUNGER GAMES' reign at the box office is over, at least until sequel Catching Fire drops on its ironclad release date of Thanksgiving 2013, but the behind-the-scenes games are in full swing. Studio Lionsgate is moving into casting, having replaced director Gary Ross with Francis Lawrence; Ross also won't have input on the script as he did with the first film, as it's being handled by Slumdog Millionaire writer Simon Beaufoy. Many in Hunger Games fandom griped about these decisions, but there's an upside: Catching Fire could be better than The Hunger Games.
Try saying that to a teenager — you'll get smacked. The people who criticize The Hunger Games film are few, far between, and old. They include Jeffrey Wells, who writes "the massive success of The Hunger Games is a confirmation of a kind of cultural vapidity;" David Denby, who calls the film "pretty much a disaster;" and Joe Morgenstern, who says it's "benumbing." These contrarians take the film to task for its camerawork, which leans heavily on hand-held shots even when two characters are just talking, and for a few plausibility issues that also irked me — but there is a basic issue in The Hunger Games that critics likely overlooked because they saw it at screenings instead of with the public. Unlike the book, the film fails to challenge its bloodthirsty audience.
I saw The Hunger Games on its first day of release, when it made $68M across America. I noticed in my theater that the audience was split into two camps. The people who had read the books (mostly teenage girls) watched as readers. They eagerly anticipated any plot point from The Hunger Games novel, and when that point was dutifully delivered, they clutched one another with glee.
There's nothing wrong with that. I read the novel too and found it brilliantly conceived, if sometimes bluntly executed. (For example, while Wells gets on the movie for allowing Katniss Everdeen to climb trees like a "chimpmunk," here are some lines from the book: "I pick my tree carefully.", "I pick a high tree and begin to climb.", "I climb dangerously high in to a tree...") Suzanne Collins is like Philip K. Dick: on a sentence-by-sentence level you can quibble with her, but she possesses mastery of concept.
The idea that reality television and government control will merge in the future to create something as off-putting and sexy as the Hunger Games is genius. Reading the book brings up great questions about celebrity (in a society of illusion, does truth make you famous?), identity (am I me, or am the "me" who people see on their screens?), and media blood-lust (who killed Davey Moore?).
The people in my audience who hadn't read the books didn't care about these questions. They were mostly teenage boys and they were there for two reasons: to see people get killed and to prove they were cool.
Great, I thought. These are precisely the kids who should see this film. It's going to make them think.
The movie lost me five minutes in, when Katniss hunts a deer. It's a great scene: She spots the deer; we get an extreme close-up of the deer's twitching nose; the deer darts off. She sighs and cru...read more