An exercise in Lazy Film-making
You all know the story by now. But just in case you’ve been too busy to read Young Adult Fiction, here’s the synopsis: every year, two young representatives (the modern version I guess of vestal virgins) are chosen from the twelve districts of post apocalyptic Panem (as in ‘panem et circenses’ or bread and circuses) to represent their district, entertain the masses and essentially kill each other, to the awe and entertainment of the people. The omnipotent elite watch from a series of (seemingly) limitless cameras, and, when necessary, manipulate the action, like Olympian gods.
The movie has been a huge critical and financial success (no doubt a weight off Hollywood’s shoulders as they’ve finally found a successor to Harry Potter). And you can see why the money has been rolling in: immensely popular book, attractive personable stars, great marketing and buzz and perfect timing. After all, the closest we’ve had to breaking the long post-Oscars drought has been “John Carter”.
I don’t get the ‘critical success’ part of the equation.
Here’s a story about a talented and innocent girl (called Katniss, which – cute – is a kind of plant from a genus commonly called ‘arrowhead’; the talented Jennifer Lawrence from “Winter’s Bone”) driven to desperation, battered and bruised and surviving through relentless determination. But this is no Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With The Dragon’s Tattoo”), who brought an edge of the seat intensity and credibility to her performance. Rather, we’re meant to believe in Jennifer Lawrence who never seems to break a sweat even of she’s rolling down hills or being shot at. Jen seems to be more on a sort of fun school outing rather than in a desperate fight to save her life. Her hair – and it’s very pretty – always remains wonderfully coiffed; and her expression stays unvaryingly bland from start to finish. I guess it must take skilled acting to offer such unidimensional expressionlessness for all of the movie’s two and a half going on twelve hours.
Director Gary Ross is master of the harmless movie (“Big” with Tom Hanks and “Sea Biscuit”). Here he manages to stage fight scenes (come on – twenty two kids are killed in the story) with a kind of blurry decorousness, as if he’s afraid of wounding our precious sensibilities. We hardly hear a thud from knife or stone on bone; there’s virtually no blood, and most of the time we never even quite see the lethal accuracy of Katniss’ arrows. He prefers to focus on the shooter; no time for the shot. Ross seems to be so concerned about the ten year olds who’ll go to the movie, that I half expected to see a scrolling disclaimer at the bottom of the screen (“No kids were killed during the filming of these scenes. Do not try this at home. Is your mother there with you?”)
Even the CGI scenes of Panea and the agog crowds are so staged and artificial that never for a moment does the director work hard at creating the willing suspension of disbelief. It’s basically lazy film making. I think the overall creative rationale was a simple one: “OK kids, you’ve read the book, you know the story; here’s the illustrated version.”
So, if you’ve read the book and your imagination isn’t enough, here’s a shoddy attempt to re-imagine things for you.