On my way back from the UK last week I ate lunch and watched a film. The lunch, despite one’s palate being really different at seven or eight miles in the air, wasn’t entirely bad. Sadly the film, The Hunger Games, was.
Lunch started well enough. The amuse-bouche was luscious slivers of cold, very lightly smoked salmon. I couldn’t decide on a starter, so I ordered two: mackerel and asparagus. Both were, to be blunt, vile. I ate them anyway. The main course, the Guinea fowl, was damn good–though the stuff that came with it (some slithery cucumber, ugh) wasn’t. I didn’t fancy any of the desserts (too much wheat and cream) so ended up scoffing a handful of specially-made-for-British Airways chocolates (which were most fine; I wish I could remember the brand). The wine was a nifty Champagne, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, followed by a Chassagne-Montrachet, not as good as the stunning Meursault I had on the plane on my February trip, but still pretty tasty. The green tea with jasmine pearls afterwards was more than acceptable.
But, oh dear me, the film: thin and utterly unconvincing. The acting was poor, which was a horrible surprise–I’ve seen most of these actors do great work. They didn’t make me feel anything. And with this premise, I should. These are children killing children. It should have been shocking, awful. But it felt like…nothing. Not vicious. Not morally repugnant. Not tense. Not involving. Not full of the dopamine rush of reversals. Just empty. What’s the point of a great premise but if neither book nor film are willing to really Go There. Take, for example, the scene in which Katniss saws through a branch to dump a humming nest of deadly tracker-jackers (super-toxic wasps) on her rivals. You would think (at least I did) that Katniss would have understood the consequences of her actions and wrestled with it. But she didn’t hesitate; as she sawed away she seemed utterly unbothered by what might happen next. It’s hard to say whether this is the fault of the writing, the acting, or the directing, but Katniss in that moment comes across as either unfeeling or stupid. Not the best way to induce sympathy. Also, I remember when reading the book how annoyed I was that Collins didn’t really examine what it meant/how it felt when Katniss killed a rival with an arrow. The film (probably the book, too, but I read it once, very quickly, long ago and wouldn’t swear to it) elides Katniss’s grief over Rue (which was possibly the least convincing moment of the film) with Katniss’s killing of, well, whoever it was she killed. (Yep, it was that moving.)
The editing felt off kilter, too. Though perhaps the trouble lay with the original footage. I don’t know enough about these things to tell. Wherever the fault lies, the action sequences were definitely wrong. It went wrong right at the beginning–Katniss’s bow hunt in the woods–and never recovered.
Even the sets were unbelievable. Both District 12 and the Capitol felt like Disney theme parks.
As for the ending, it doesn’t work. Halfway through the film I found myself trying to remember how the book went, and couldn’t–because I hadn’t believed it when I read it. The rule changes are too convenient. They let Katniss off the hook of every moral dilemma. She never has to make hard decisions. She never has to choose. I end up not caring, not believing. I end up not making the story mine; I forget what happens because it doesn’t matter to me.
There isn’t one moment of this film that I liked. An emphatic Thumbs Down.