Julio Kukanja and Olly Buxton both attended The Hunger Games as twin-critics from flickfeast – a sort of left/right combination to the solar plexus aimed at giving you, the reader, a genuinely stereoscopic view of the film. They took that to some extremes as they failed to meet up before the screening and wound up sitting on opposite sides of the theatre, Julio at the back, Olly about six inches from a screen the size of Cardiff Arms Park. Quite the audio-visual experience. Here we catch up with our roving reporters to in a frank aftermatch of the pros and cons.
Olly: Speaking of Stereoscopic, Julio, Hunger Games wasn’t in 3D, despite plenty of opportunities to exploit the space, with whistling arrows, Siberian fireballs and a Matrixey sort of superdome. Are studios finally getting over this blessed obsession with 3D?
Julio: It wouldn’t have worked, not for this. 3D now sounds like more of a flirtation than a mainstay. I suspect that in character driven pieces like this 3D would be a hindrance. That said, did you like it? There was such anticipation in the house.
Olly: I did like it. I thought Jennifer Lawrence did a tremendous job as the lead, though Josh Hutcherson struggled with his role as a beta-male love interest. Did they overdo the Steadycam, or was I just sitting too near the front? I went cross eyed trying to follow all that jerky motion and focussing in and out.
Julio: It was jerky from the back too. I suspect that the hand-held shots helped in not showing all the gruesome bits, it is a PG 13 film after all.
I was frustrated with the film in general. It didn’t take off for a while and the trip was to destinations I had visited previously. In Jennifer Lawrence, though a generational heroine is born, for 15-year-old girls at least. She will be a great role model: defiant, stoic, altruistic. Her characterisation of Katniss Everdeen was engaging.
Olly: A little too long? It felt like it took an age to get to the Games themselves, and even then some of the backstory was rushed. Was Gary Ross trying to do too much?
Julio: I’m surprised they used him. He didn’t grab me in the beginning so I was a reluctant traveller. I think he didn’t balance the story enough. The whole sub-plot that resembled The Truman Show, that was the key to engaging the adult viewers, he missed it there, big time. It could have been really kitsch and funny – or really menacing. In the end I found it way too mild. This is meant to be totalitarian regime, and they are sitting around having dinner and getting style tips off Lenny ‘yellow eyeliner’ Kravitz? C’mon! I didn’t enjoy Ross’ very cheap looking sets either.
Olly: What did you make of the political allegory? A hint of Arab Spring in there, mixed in with the vacuity of reality game shows entertaining the chattering classes? Sort of Celebrity Survivor meets 1984?
Julio: We older viewers [Editor’s note: Julio is 15] can find many examples to compare the film to. Battle Royale, Running Man etc. The dystopian world was absolutely necessary. It brought the struggle out in all of us: that underdog complex. We get this grey Depression-era world, District 12, where our ‘Tributes’ come from. It is very grim. Food is scarce. The adults are paralysed; ineffective slaves to the regime. A Fascist regime – then it transforms into a sort of pre-Revolutionary France when the Tributes are brought to compete. The images were striking enough to make the connections, but it was light on details. That chariot parade was heinous and tacky but it did bring out that vacuity of the reality game show as you mentioned.
I suppose revolutions are hot right now. We all need causes and we are looking for enemies. Fighting for the disenfranchised or the oppressed. Katniss does bring that out in her character. The reluctant symbol against oppression by not kowtowing for their entertainment pleasure. No, the allegorical tale was sufficient enough to engage me though. I suppose I wanted more of that.
I didn’t like the way they played the race card with the little black girl. That was cheap, but it’s a PG film. Heart strings must be tugged, and I keep forgetting that. Could it have worked at another rating?
Olly: I sense your view of the film is hardening! I lost count of the references, too: I stopped counting after Total Wipeout – but I’m prepared to cut it more slack; it’s a kids’ movie, so the lessons have to be drawn fairly crudely, and it was never less than entertaining. And they never over-egged it the allegory: plenty was left to the viewers’ imaginations.
Were you not cheered by Woody Harrelson’s comic turn as Basil Exposition?
Julio: Yes, let’s get into the adult characters. Woody with long blonde surfer locks, an alcoholic grin, flashy suits. What would you say his character represents? The lament of the western male descending into moral abandonment – a casualty of generation excess – a lesson in unchecked hedonism? He was a slightly comical surprise, though ,as was Stanley Tucci – Godawful costume with that blue hair as well. but it did work, I suppose. To help build an antagonism towards them. The elite ruling class were portrayed as an aristocratic modern Eurotrash with a touch of Essex – a sure fire way to stir American ire.
Olly: I liked Tucci’s Amadeus barnet and zero-to-100mph Nixonesque mouth-only rictus grin. But, like many of the roles, his Caesar only contributed to the on-screen clutter, which is why the film was long yet still felt rushed. Donald Sutherland could have used more screen time as President Snow. He didn’t get enough time to be genuinely evil: he never got past being a dark inversion of Santa Claus.
Julio: I’m beginning to like this film after that comment regarding Tucci’s ‘Nixonesque grin’. Elizabeth Banks unfortunately fizzled away in the film. Why did they put that white powder make up all over her gorgeous face? What a waste ! But the worst facial hair award, since Ben Stiller’s Tony Wonder from Arrested Development, has to be Wes Bentley’s character Seneca Crane. It may start a trend. It probably has its own Facebook page.
Olly: I think Tom Hulce from Amadeus may be considering legal action re that mop chop, too. (And Danny John-Jules from Red Dwarf, for that matter). Elizabeth Banks’s Effie was yet another character completely unneeded by the screenplay. There were so many redundant characters to introduce and explain: at least four ”Henchmen” (Effie, Caesar, Seneca and Claudius); three “home is where the heart is” characters (Gale, Primrose, Mother); two Ben Kenobis (Haymitch and Cinna) and about five Darth Maul stormtroopers (Cato, Thresh, Clove, Foxface and Glimmer). I still think it was a good film, but boy they could have sent the screenplay on a fitness regime.
So let’s wrap this up, Julio: The critics have so far loved it; you and I have been a bit more equivocal: how is it going to go down with the punters?
Julio: I can’t see this failing at the box office. Jennifer Lawrence owns this first instalment. A bona fide heroine for the 20 teens. But outside of the teen demographic its going to be a tougher sell. Olly its been a pleasure.
Olly: With you all the way on that one, Julio!
The Hunger Games is out in cinemas 23rd March.