Director Misses with ‘Games’


Set in a dystopian future of America, 12 districts comprise the nation and, along with the Capitol, the seat of government. Every year each district must offer up one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in a gladiatorial game, The Hunger Games, to earn food for the coming year. These teens are selected at random and taken to the Capitol to compete in a fight to the death for televised enjoyment. The one who survives is crowned the victor and earns fame and riches.

District 12 is where the story begins, in the coal mining region that was once the Appalachian Mountains. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is the sole provider for her family. She is an expert archer and hunter. When her younger sister is chosen for the games, Katniss volunteers to take her place. With the boy chosen from her district, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), they are taken to compete in the games and soon realize the harsh reality that they may have to kill other teens, and that they almost certainly will die.

This movie is the long-awaited adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ novel of the same name that took the world by storm in 2008. It spawned two more books to make a trilogy. “Catching Fire” was published in 2009 and “Mockingjay” was published in 2010. Since “The Hunger Games” film has had the biggest opening weekend of any non-sequel movie ($155 million domestic), we can expect to see the other two books coming soon enough, with “Catching Fire” already slated for next Thanksgiving. But having seen the first film, this reporter awaits the next installments with trepidation.

First off, let me say that the book is great. It is much more in depth and explains a lot more, as books always do. But the real upside to the book over the film is that director Gary Ross is nowhere near the printed page.

Ross, whose directing credits include “Seabiscuit” and “Pleasantville,” seemed to have completely stepped away from the skill he had shown in those previous films.      “Seabiscuit” was a truly great film and without checking Ross’ resume, you would never know he was the same director who did “The Hunger Games.”

This film is full of action and powerful scenes of poverty and despair as the audience is shown the state of living in District 12. But Ross decided to show only a small part of each frame as the camera whips by so fast that viewers can barely make out what we were supposed to see. After more than two hours of an action movie shot this way, we are left a little green in the face to say the least.

People walked out of the theater when it started shaking so much. The shots looked as if they had been taken out of the window of a moving car on a bumpy road from 100 yards away, so the cameraman had to zoom all the way in and try his best to hold it steady. This makes the audience look away from the screen to keep from getting sick, causing viewers to miss that small part of the frame. Plot points are missed, striking images are lost, all because of this constant poor directing choice.

Then there’s Jennifer Lawrence who, in staying true to the character, came across as blank for most of the film. In the book, Katniss is introverted and we hear her thoughts. In the movie, she is just quiet and stares. It is hard to register what is going on inside her head without the narrative. Coupling that with a weak performance by Josh Hutcherson and this film is no exemption. In the male lead role, he leaves the audience wanting.

There are good parts to the film, though. Donald Sutherland plays a particularly evil president of the Capitol, and Woody Harrelson is Haymitch, a former winner and mentor to the two competitors. Perhaps the best part of the film, though, was Stanley Tucci as an over the top talk show host with over the top teeth. He gives the Capitol’s perspective on “The Hunger Games” and tries to spin everything to a positive light in this teenage deathmatch.

Rated PG-13, I give this movie 3 out of 5 stars, simply because the plot is so good.  But with a movie ticket at $12, this reporter would suggest spending only $10 and go pick up the book instead.