There is a moment in "The Hunger Games" where the citizens of District 12 — a divided community within a futuristic, haunting alternate universe that is never really categorized as America or elsewhere — raise up their right hands to reveal a symbol that consists of the first three fingers being held upright.
I'm sure what I'm describing here is familiar to a lot of readers, previously knowledgeable of Suzanne Collins's novel of the same title. But for a hand gesture that appears not once but twice within a 142-minute movie, one would think the film itself would take a few seconds to explain what the hell it actually meant.
Is this how viewers who never read a "Harry Potter" book felt during the movies? As a reader and a fan, I always praised the films for being faithful adaptations, but without previous awareness of the source material I fear some movies may have come off as the cinematic equivalent of Cliff Notes.
This is how I felt a lot of the time during "The Hunger Games," an adequately made blockbuster but a sloppy storyteller — constantly winking and nudging at people who have read the books and trying to find its footing for everyone else. My confusion here seems to represent exclusivity to a club that I am just not a part of.
What do the hand gestures mean? Why can clothing spontaneously catch and extinguish fire? What world are we in, exactly? The funniest joke in the movie comes when Stanley Tucci — the host of the titular competition, reminiscent of a blue-haired Ryan Seacrest — actually halts the narrative to explain what something means. Where was he during the rest of the movie?
With the film's target audience already in the bag, where does that leave the rest of us? Luckily, the exclusiveness is more a pestering annoyance than a crippling problem, and the movie is a watchable, tolerable blend of light violence, a few strong characters, and occasionally suspenseful plot developments.
And while the source material is merely the gritty, ultra-violent Japanese film "Battle Royale" (2000) repackaged and sanitized for a young adult audience, I was able to put comparisons in the back of my mind for most of the movie's duration — though one key difference remains. While both films deal with adolescent aged individuals killing each other for sport until just one survivor remains, in only one movie does the blood feel real.
"The Hunger Games" masks a lot of its shocking subject matter with predictable set-ups for "Twilight"-esque love triangles in the inevitable future films and developing the strong female protagonist of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers herself into the deadly event in order to protect the life of her younger sister after she is chosen to compete.
But for the most part, this is a hollow viewing experience especially for those such as myself who never cracked open the binding of Suzanne Collins's novel. Who knows what I would have thought had I read the book, but also who cares? Is "The Godfather" less of a movie for people who never read Mario Puzo's book?
As big as "The Hunger Games" and its subsequent novels are, the books and the films are two completely different entities. The movie should work on its own without needing previously acquired knowledge to fill in the gaps — plot holes that, had the screenwriters put in a little effort, wouldn't exist in the first place.
But they do exist, and this really is a blockbuster with pinpoint focus on the audience it wants and already has. Meanwhile, the rest of us just sit there and observe hand gestures that don't make sense.
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Greg Vellante is the film critic for The Eagle-Tribune, currently attending Emerson College.
He has been reviewing and writing about movies for The Eagle-Tribune since 2007.