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.