The younger Metacritics seem to be the more negative for what it's worth
Tuesday, Mar 20, 2012 3:00 PM 18:55:38 PDT
“The Hunger Games”: A lightweight Twi-pocalypse
Jennifer Lawrence is spectacular in the spring's biggest movie -- but its vision of the future is addled and dumb
By Andrew O'Hehir
Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games"
Topics:The Hunger Games, Movies, Action movies
In the world of “The Hunger Games,” the celebrity culture and media overload of our age have been rolled back to something that approximates the middle of the 20th century, crossed with the Roman Empire. Instead of today’s narrow-casted onslaught of Internet, cable and satellite entertainment, there’s one TV channel and one reality show, which occupies the entire culture as nothing has in the real world since perhaps O.J.’s Bronco chase, or the Challenger disaster. In Panem, “Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins’ nightmarish future version of America, it’s as if the first season of “Survivor” or “American Idol” is on the air year after year, with real killings, no competition and ratings that never go down.
It’s an interesting scenario, I suppose, but how did this happen? Nothing in Collins’ books, or in director Gary Ross’ simultaneously chaotic and desultory film adaptation, even tries to explain that (or seems aware of it as a narrative problem). Somewhere amid the civil war and widespread destruction and rise of a totalitarian state that forms the scanty back story of “The Hunger Games,” the collective knowingness and jadedness and pseudo-sophistication of the Information Revolution society has evaporated. Or at least it has among the subject populations, in the outlying districts annually compelled to supply young combatants to the Hunger Games. Where Collins’ heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, in the movie) grows up, in the Appalachian coal-mining zone called District 12, willowy women in print dresses with flyaway hair live in tumbledown shacks, looking for all the world as if they just stepped out of a Dorothea Lange photo essay from 1937. (Have blue jeans for women and indoor plumbing been abolished, along with consumer society, corporate capitalism and postmodernity in general?)
If that sounds like too much intellectual heavy lifting to apply to a girl-centric action-romance that mashes up a bunch of disparate influences and ingredients, from Greek mythology to Orwell to Stephen King, well, it probably is. My point is that the patchwork of “The Hunger Games” never really holds together or makes any sense, except as an elementary fairy tale about a young girl’s coming of age and an incipient romantic triangle (which is the focus of the film, far more than the book). In Collins’ novel, the first-person narration and Katniss’ intense physical and psychological struggle seize center stage and overwhelm the threadbare situation, at least to some degree. Ross’ movie version — co-written by him, Collins and Billy Ray — is probably adequate to satisfy hardcore fans, but only just. It’s a hash job that offers intriguing moments of social satire and delightful supporting performances, but subsumes much of the book’s page-turning drama to sub-“Twilight” teen romance. Of course it will make a zillion dollars opening weekend, but I’m not convinced this franchise will be as ginormous, in the long run, as Hollywood hopes.
It’s easy to be seduced by something that’s both as clever and as successful as “The Hunger Games,” and to conclude that it must have something to say about violence and the media and changing ideas of femininity and other hot-button topics it appears to address. But as becomes even clearer in the movie version, it really doesn’t. It’s a cannily crafted entertainment that refers to ideas without actually possessing any, beyond an all-purpose populism that could appeal just as easily to a Tea Partyer as to a left-winger. If not more so — the true villain of “The Hunger Games” is the all-powerful state, and the population of Panem’s capital city (in Ross’ movie, and to some extent in the book too) is a decadent, affected and polysexual media elite, whose outrageous peacock fashions suggest the court of Marie Antoinette appearing in a Duran Duran video.
In fact, “The Hunger Games” is precisely the thing it pretends to disapprove of: a pulse-elevating spectacle meant to distract us from the unsatisfying situation of the real world, and to offer a simulated outlet for youthful disaffection and anxiety (in this case, the anxieties of girls and young women in particular). Bread and circuses, only without the bread, and pretending to be anti-circus. I’m not claiming that’s anything new in pop culture, and it certainly isn’t a crime. Furthermore, the shapeless politics of “The Hunger Games” have very little to do with the question of whether it’s any good, although they do illustrate how calculated the whole project is.
About one ingredient there can be little question: “The Hunger Games” announces Jennifer Lawrence’s arrival as an A-list movie star, likely at or near the level of “Twilight’s” Kristen Stewart. I’m not sure that Ross — a longtime Hollywood insider who co-wrote “Big” for Tom Hanks, and wrote and directed “Seabiscuit” — asks Lawrence to do half as much acting as she did in “Winter’s Bone,” but she commands the screen with effortless magnetism, a noble innocent who is gorgeous but not quite sexy, simultaneously a tomboy and a princess. As I saw clearly for the first time, the character is clearly meant to invoke Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt. When her younger sister’s name is drawn, against all odds, at the annual “reaping” for Hunger Games contestants, Katniss steps forward to take her place, beginning her appointment with destiny and her confrontation with the cruelty of the Capitol. She’s leaving behind her friend, hunting partner and maybe-kinda boyfriend Gale, played woodenly, or perhaps beefily, by smoldering male-model type Liam Hemsworth.
As Collins’ readers already know, Katniss must battle to the death against 23 other “tributes” aged 12 to 18 — one boy and one girl from each of the 12 subservient districts — in an arena that appears to be a natural outdoor setting but may not be. Now we know why Ross and the film’s producers didn’t show us any footage of the actual Hunger Games combat in advance: They hadn’t shot any until last week. OK, that’s unfair. Most of the book’s Games encounters are here, in abbreviated form, but Ross and company have streamlined the story and altered several details (some significantly), and the whole thing feels ultra-perfunctory. Almost no actual bloodshed is depicted (in deference to the required PG-13 rating), and during the fight sequences cinematographer Tom Stern relies on a wobbly, nonsensical, quick-cut style that leaves you utterly unsure about who has killed whom, and may have you squeezing your eyes shut to avoid throwing up. The problem really isn’t the lack of explicit violence; far more important, we get no sense of the hunger, thirst, cold, disease and harrowing physical torment undergone by Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the shy, blond District 12 baker’s son who has long loved her from afar. OK, they get a few superficial nicks and scratches, but they look as well-fed and runway-ready in the second half of the movie as they did at the beginning.
I have many more bones to pick with the Games — the Cornucopia, used by the game designers to lure contestants into a free-for-all? So bogus! — but when you pull back and look at the fripperies around the edges of Ross’ “Hunger Games,” it becomes much more entertaining and nearly worthwhile. Stanley Tucci is amazing as Caesar Flickerman, the host of the Hunger Games broadcast. All of a sudden, this universe without media savvy becomes all about media savvy, all wrapped into this unctuous persona whose sincerity is so fake it becomes real (or the other way around), and whose dazzling smile is at once comforting and terrifying. As he so often can, Woody Harrelson turns Haymitch, a drunken past winner of the Games from Katniss’ district, into a fascinating and mysterious figure, even though the script gives him little to do. Wes Bentley plays a game designer who must frequently consult with Panem’s sinister president (Donald Sutherland, apparently playing Brigham Young), in expository scenes that aren’t in the book but provide helpful background.
I also dug Lenny Kravitz, playing a stylist named Cinna who grooms Katniss for the Games — the only person she meets in the decadent Capitol who has a shred of genuineness or integrity — and becomes her confidant. In his sly, androgynous sexiness, Kravitz has way more chemistry and connection with Lawrence than do Hemsworth or Hutcherson, playing the two lunkheads supposedly smitten with Katniss. I’d way rather watch a love story about Katniss and Cinna than the lightweight Twi-triangle inflicted on us by Ross, who has (with Collins’ permission, evidently) stripped his heroine of almost all her Artemis-like uncertainty about boys and romance. (In the book, you couldn’t be quite sure Katniss wasn’t a lesbian, at least at first.)
But we’re not getting Katniss and Cinna, of course, and we don’t get anything that feels remotely like an ending in this clunky, clumsy adaptation; the story reaches a certain point and the curtain simply drops. Wait another year and spend another $12, and you’ll get another chapter. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but that just seems mean (and neither the Harry Potter nor the “Twilight” series were quite this blatant about it). I realize it will probably work, or work well enough. “The Hunger Games” has some cool moments here and there, and is never entirely dreadful. Lawrence is both radiant and triumphant. They haven’t screwed it up badly enough to kill it, although they’ve tried. Go ahead and put that on your poster
New York Daily News: 5 stars (by Joe Neumaier):
It's a true shot to the heart!
“The Hunger Games,” the highly anticipated movie based on the best-selling teen novel, is as tough-spirited as fans would hope for - and exciting and thought-provoking in a way few adventure dramas ever are.
It’s also a far more serious movie than the marketing, and mainstream mania, have led us to believe. It’s better and scarier than its source book, and aims an angry eye at our bloodthirsty, watch-anything-and-cheer culture. And there’s also pro-rebellion, anti-1% sentiment coursing through its blood. While the dark allegory within Suzanne Collins’ 2008 publishing phenomenon remains intact, it’s anchored by a remarkable performance from Jennifer Lawrence and - it has to be said - can’t-look-away action.
Lawrence, as everyone now knows, plays Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old in a future North America reconfigured after war and eco-disaster into “Panem.” A dozen impoverished “districts,” controlled by the amoral Capitol, make up the ex-U.S.
Katniss’ family lives in District 12, formerly Appalachia. She and her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) hunt for squirrels to survive - her preferred weapon is a bow and arrow - while hoping not to hear their names called in the Hunger Games, in which a young girl and boy from each district are picked by lottery for an annual, televised death match - killing each other for the amusement of the wealthy and powerful.
The Games are a way of punishing constituents for a nearly century-old uprising, though haunting propaganda films paint them as honorable sacrifice. When her little sister is chosen, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Her co-“tribute” is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son from Katniss’ starving town.
After Peeta and Katniss are fawned over by the Capitol’s craven citizenry, they’re transported via hovercraft to a woodland arena where Katniss’ archery skills and survival instincts could save her — as could the audience’s belief that she and Peeta are in love. But there are 22 other young people out there willing to murder to win, hoping “a good show” will earn them life.
Director Gary Ross, whose “Pleasantville” is spiritual kin to this movie, may seem too grown-up for the material, but he’s a smart chaperone.
He allows for historical context — children registering to be slaughtered evokes a concentration camp — but doesn’t glamorize the horror of kids killing kids, and isn’t shy about dramatizing how a government can abuse and manipulate the poor.
And he doesn’t push Lawrence, a past Oscar nominee, to be anything other than her wily self. She gives a soulful, stern performance that never dips into Bella-Swan levels of pandering.
An affecting Hutcherson and Hemsworth may match Lawrence’s ferocity with occasionally obvious earnestness, but they give “Games” — and its future sequels— a feistier triangle than the “Twilight” films.
Meanwhile, a great supporting cast — toothy Stanley Tucci as a horrific TV host, Donald Sutherland as a malevolent President and perfectly cast Woody Harrelson as drunken former Games victor Haymitch Abernathy — indulges in modulated scenery-chewing.
It should be said that even the books’ fans may be shocked at the movie’s toughness, as well as its tone, which feels like “The Truman Show” and “Logan’s Run” woven with the DNA of TV’s “Survivor.”
But for all the media’s salivating, “Hunger Games” delivers — and leaves a memorable aftertaste.
The Hunger Games
Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson
by Gary Ross
Rolling Stone: star rating 3.5 out of 4
March 21, 2012
Relax, you legions of Hunger Gamers. We have a
winner. Hollywood didn't screw up the film version of Suzanne Collins'
young-adult bestseller about a survival-of-the-fittest reality show that sends
home all its teen contestants, save the victor, in body bags. The screen
Hunger Games radiates a hot, jumpy energy that's irresistible. It has
epic spectacle, yearning romance, suspense that won't quit and a shining star in
Jennifer Lawrence, who gives us a female warrior worth cheering.
That's more than you can say for the castration job
that the suits did on Stephenie Meyer's Twilight franchise. I'll admit
that Games isn't the scary, eruptive firecracker of my dark,
Tarantino-fueled imagination. And if you're among the 26 million who devoured
the Collins trilogy – The Hunger Games followed by Catching
Fire and Mockingjay – you know it could have been. But even
wearing a PG-13 harness to ensure profitability, The Hunger Games gets
your pulse racing. It's about something pertinent, the mission to define
yourself in a world that's spinning off its moral axis.
As 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, the renegade hunter
who kills with a bow and arrow and stands up to take the place of her younger
sister in the deadly Games, Lawrence reveals a physical and emotional grace
that's astonishing. Give her the deed, because she owns this movie. It's not
just that Katniss makes Twilight's Bella Swan look like the wimp she
is, it's that Lawrence, 21, is an acting dynamo with the skills to let us into
Katniss' searching mind. Last year, Lawrence won an Oscar nomination for playing
an Ozark girl in Winter's Bone. She's just as affecting this
time, lending primal force to this dystopian fable of a society out of sync with
At 142 minutes, The Hunger Games can go from
rushed to draggy. But director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) hits the high spots, using
action to define character instead of obliterate it. He wisely brought in
Collins to collaborate on the script he wrote with Billy Ray (Shattered
Glass). That way, even when the book's events are condensed or characters
eliminated, the feeling stays true.
The Games are a punishment invented by the Capitol
of Panem (read: North America) for the 12 districts whose rebellion against
Capitol rule was crushed more than 74 years ago. The attitude of President Snow
(Donald Sutherland, wily in his evil) is "You screwed us, so we'll screw you."
Every year on Reaping Day, a boy and a girl (ages 12 to 18) from each district
are chosen by lottery to fight to the death in a televised gladiator event
devised by head Games-maker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley). Ratings are not a
problem. Even in downtrodden District 12, where Katniss hunts for scraps to feed
her sister and her widowed mother, viewing the Games is mandatory. You won't
need your arm twisted to see the movie, artfully shot by Tom Stern (Mystic
River) as the scene shifts from the perverse lushness of the Capitol to
the stark landscape of the battle zone. And did I mention makeovers? All the
Tributes (that's what contenders are called) get them. Katniss has fashion
genius Cinna (Lenny Kravitz doing a fun spin on Tom Ford) to create a wow dress
that bursts into flame at the hem. Nice one.
Like Bella before her, Katniss is pursued by two
laddies-in-waiting, in this case Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), the strapping
District 12 hunk and fellow illegal hunter she leaves behind, and Peeta Mellark
(Josh Hutcherson), the baker's son who joins Katniss in the Games and secretly
pines for her. Are you Team Gale or Team Peeta? You might not care as much,
since neither has the exotic allure of a vampire or a wolf. But Hemsworth
Last Song, with girlfriend Miley Cyrus) quickly establishes a strong,
appealing presence. And Hutcherson (The
Kids Are All Right) brings humor and a bruised heart to a boy who needs
to mature fast.
Dynamite actors dot the film. Stanley Tucci is a
brilliant blend of mirth and malice as Caesar Flickerman, a TV host who reps the
dark side of Ryan Seacrest in this lethal version of American Idol.
Elizabeth Banks brings malicious wit to the bewigged and powdered PR guru Effie
Trinket. "May the odds be ever in your favor," announces Effie with inane
sincerity. And the reliably stellar Woody Harrelson cuts deep as the perpetually
shitfaced Haymitch Abernathy, a former victor in the Games now acting as mentor
to both Katniss and Peeta. When he's not falling-down drunk, Haymitch instructs
his protégés on how to suck up to sponsors who send supplies into the arena when
a Tribute wins audience favor. So-called reality TV is given a sharp, satirical
kick as Tributes learn to play and pander to hidden cameras. Is Katniss really
falling for Peeta as she nurses his wounds, or is she faking it to save her ass
and his? Discuss.
Sadly, the erotic heat that Collins generates between Katniss and Peeta in a
hidden cave never rises above room temperature onscreen. Hand-to-hand combat
does fuel the intensity as Katniss fights career Tributes trained to go medieval
on enemy ass. Check out machete-wielding Cato (Alexander Ludwig) and
knife-throwing Clove (Isabelle Fuhrman), not to mention a swarm of deadly,
genetically engineered wasps called Tracker Jackers. The caring bond Katniss
forms with Rue (Amandla Stenberg), the youngest Tribute, is just a brief break
from the assaults aimed to make Katniss trade her soul for survival.
For all its compromises, The Hunger Games
is a zeitgeist movie that captures the spirit of a soul-sucking age in which ego
easily trumps common cause. Ironically, the kill-to-win ethos that dominates
movies from 1987's prophetic The Running Man to the undiluted brutality
of Japan's Battle Royale in 2000, may find its largest viewership in
The Hunger Games. But will mainstream audiences respond to the moral
challenge churning under the pop-culture razzle-dazzle? It's anybody's guess. My
advice is to keep your eyes on Lawrence, who turns the movie into a victory by
presenting a heroine propelled by principle instead of hooking up with the
cutest boy. That's what makes Katniss revolutionary. May the odds be ever in her
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/the-hunger-games-20120321#ixzz1pmW7QFin
Possibly the 'best' review I've read to date, and it sure sounds like they've kept the essence of the novels, and what makes them so compelling and page-turning.
"But will mainstream audiences respond to the moral challenge churning under the pop-culture razzle-dazzle?" Meaning, will the IQ-lowering , soda-guzzling bulk of the audience recognize what they're seeing on the screen as relevent to our now? Maybe. Could be a good thing it's set in an undefined, 'distant future' far removed from our world, or people might get really mad....
"You posted the Village Voice review of HUNGER GAMES. The Village Voice review says the film's treatment of gay people is homophobic. Why deny it, especially after you posted it?"
Well, if any part of this is true, that would put a major damper on enjoying HUNGER GAMES. It's puzzling to me, since I detected no homophobia in the novels. Not even a drop. No inferences, and no eye-brow-raising moments.
I dont believe that Collins had this intention at all. It would have defeated the entire purpose of her novels: empowerment, courage, sacrifice, and equality.
The Sunne in Splendour; I prefer my Roses White
From the Hollywood Reporter:
"By yesterday afternoon, the country's top theater circuits - including AMC Entertainment, Cinemark and Regal Entertainment - already had whipped up north of $15 million in ticket sales, according to those who have seen the figures. It's likely that a sizable portion of the tickets are for midnight and Friday runs, though there are reports of Saturday sales as well. One exhibitor believes Hunger Games could rack up $20 million or more in midnight earnings, one of the best showings ever.
Also Wednesday, Hunger Games cracked Fandango's all-time top five of presellers, an elite roster made up of the final two Harry Potter films and the past three Twilight pics. Hunger Games rose to No. 4, overtaking The Twilight Saga: Eclipse and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, respectively. By (this) morning, Hunger Games is expected to leap ahead of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 in terms of advance ticket sales to claim the No. 3 spot."
Enjoy this, everyone. I've not felt this kind of good vibe for a movie, with critics and fans uniting behind it, the whole cultural phenonenom thing since Titanic. It will debut in 4,137 theaters Friday, which translates into approximately close to 10,000 screens. So with less than 24 hours away from the midnight shows, how do you think this will do overall? As in total boxoffice? As for me, I think SpiderMan (2002 version) may need to vacate its 10th place rank.