Divided

I’ll be sitting down with The Hunger Games about 90 minutes hence, but right now I’m having a WTF reaction to the current Rotten Tomatoes reviews. It’s running 100% as we speak, although a critic friend who’s seen it says this doesn’t calculate. “[The film] doesn’t want to make you poke your eyes with scissors or anything,” he says, “but come on.” So what happened to “toned down for young female demo” and “good enough, somewhat chickenshit“?

“A thrilling, intelligent, deeply-felt movie that does not play by the typical rules of franchise building in modern Hollywood.” — Drew McWeeny, Hitfix. “As thrilling and smart as it is terrifying. There have been a number of big-gun literary series brought to screen over the past decade. This slays them all.” — Olly Richards, Empire. “As action, as allegory, as cinema, The Hunger Games is the best American science-fiction film since The Matrix.” — James Rocchi, Boxoffice. “The Hunger Games is that rarest of beasts: a Hollywood action blockbuster that is smart, taut and knotty.” — Xan Brooks, Guardian.

My critic pally says it’s “one of those unimaginative, let’s-recreate-exactly-what-was-on-the-page-while-watching-the-PG13-rating-and-count-our-money adaptations. I’m surprised Chris Columbus didn’t direct it. Lifeless, turgid, rote, irritating…whatever one may say of, say, James Cameron or Oliver Stone, they have never made a movie as crass and calculating as this one.”

53 thoughts on “Divided

  1. This is why Metacritic is better. The Tomato-Meter doesn’t reflect levels of enthusiasm/approval, just literally the thumbs up thumbs down. I still bet people cut this one a lot of slack because of the rockin’ female hero.

  2. Brainwashed by twitter and associates. Nothing more, nothing less. These critics just wanna get some love from the youthful masses. The heck with them.

  3. Jeff, it’s so clear right now that you are geared to hate The Hunger Games (much like your predetermination about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer) that it’s going to be impossible to take your reactions with more than a grain of salt. You’re increasingly becoming one of those critics (though you may not regard yourself as one) who requires a movie to “come to them” and “win them over,” going in with a wall that is nearly impossible for most movies to scale. I’m not a fanboy or franchise fan, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt once in awhile, can we?

    I’ve seen The Hunger Games and let me tell you I have not read the books nor am I one of its legion, and the movie is pretty much a solid triple (or at least stealing third). Your critic friend sounds so desperately ready to be the first naysayer, so above it all and so much smarter and perceptive than everyone else — we all know the type.

    Overall, the movie is intelligent, well-made and features two strong performances from Jennifer Lawrence (tailor made for this role; it’s almost like she’s in a sequel to Winter’s Bone) and, a bit lesser, Josh Hutcherson, who shows much sensitivity. As strong as she is, he’s that soft — appealing. Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson are also both first-rate.

    On the other hand, I didn’t think much of how the movie mounted its futuristic, totalitarian regime, clad in day-glo get-ups with their herd mentality (the reality TV dimensions felt new in The Truman Show but not so much here), but because of Lawrence’s intensity I was held by the movie for 142 minutes, didn’t know where it was going but could tell it was working… There’s also a beautiful scene involving the death of a younger girl that is seriously moving.

    Yet I don’t think Ross was the right choice to direct this (and I know he co-adapted it) as it seems to need a visionary director/stylist of some sort, like Cameron or Fincher, and Ross doesn’t have a strong enough visual sense to truly deliver this world to us. And his approach to the bloodshed is, at times, a little detached and too-craftily edited.

    Surprisingly, once the games begin I felt like the film dipped for awhile, but Lawrence never did. She’s so good in this film that she carries nearly every scene.

    So I felt positive on it with a few reservations — only commenting because it most certainly isn’t the disaster your friend is painting.

  4. “The Hunger Games is the best American science-fiction film since The Matrix.”

    The irony is, of course, that the Matrix also ripped off a Japanese movie. :)

  5. I actually kind of love that DZ is taking the Hunger-Games-is-just-deballed-Battle-Royale talking point. Maybe that’ll hold a mirror of sorts to the other hardcore nerds who insist that once one movie uses an idea, any other book, movie, or TV show, anything else using a remotely similar concept is simply ripping it off (apparently that goes double for anything Japanese. The Japanese only use original ideas, you know! They invented the idea of fighting to the death in the year 2000, right after they finished inventing science fiction and gun battles).

  6. jesse: “The Japanese only use original ideas, you know!”

    Well, they do more than Hollywood and YA authors, anyway.

  7. Also, as much as I’m meh about Seabiscuit, I find it hard to believe that the guy who made that movie and Pleasantville, and wrote Dave and Big, could make something Columbus-level. Probably not Cameron/Fincher/Spielberg/whoever level, no. But above Columbus level, almost certainly.

    Or maybe whoever made that comparison is just forgetting how clumsy Columbus’s direction is on Potter or, worse, that Percy Jackson movie.

  8. YA authors, who differ from regular authors in their FAR LESS ORIGINAL ideas. Hate those. Or are you about to tell me that Harry Potter ISN’T just a toothless retread of several Ranma 1/2 episodes?!???

  9. jesse: “Or are you about to tell me that Harry Potter ISN’T just a toothless retread of several Ranma 1/2 episodes?!???”

    Actually, Rowling has been (unsuccessfully) sued for allegedly being “inspired” by other fantasy novels, among other things.

  10. Jeff’s constant misuse of the Tomatometer remains an obnoxious fixture. All that number means is that 100% of people found the movie ok or better. One person’s mild enjoyment of the movie is considered just as “Fresh” as a second person’s enthusiastic rave.

    Besides all that, judging film quality by the Tomatometer is a completely Eloi thing to do. You can’t get more “lowest-common-denominator” that valuing something that everyone thinks is just ok enough to get a “Fresh” rating. In fact, if you value film as an art form capable of greatness, you should *hate* the idea of a film getting 100% on the meter. Because a truly great film will transport audiences to new places, evoke different feelings and ideas, and statistically there’s always going to be some people who won’t like the journey. Meanwhile, acceptable periodically enjoyable schlock will get everyone’s approval, and they’ll forget everything about their 100% approved movie the moment they leave the theater.

    Stop using the Tomatometer like the “Idiocracy” characters use Brawndo!

  11. Hunger Games is a rip off of, if anything, of a couple of Stephen King’s novels under his Richard Bachman pseudonym. The Long Walk and The Running Man being those two.

    It would take a lot for me to believe Suzanna Collins watched Battle Royale at any point before writing her novel. If only because her novels are so wishy washy you’d think she’d be afraid of being seen as the watered down version of the concept.

  12. And she worked in the entertainment industry prior to publishing, so she would’ve been even more likely to hear about it.

  13. “Hunger Games is a rip off of, if anything, of a couple of Stephen King’s novels under his Richard Bachman pseudonym. The Long Walk and The Running Man being those two.”

    WRONG! King ripped off a Japanese novel, “Do Shinjeki Tokatsu,” and split it into those two knockoffs of his. (Besides King, DZ is the only one who has read Tokatsu… or claims to have read it.)

    Once again, every single original concept in world history was first created by the Japanese. Every piece of art, whether it’s a book, music, movie or painting, is just stolen from them. WHEN WILL YOU LEARN??!!

  14. This was an excruciating, boring, and more importantly, STUPID movie. People who say this film is “intelligent” are frankly scaring me a bit. This shit is dumber than a box of rocks, just another empty-headed fascist blockbuster piece of shit. I was miserable from a half hour on, and it just got duller and duller and duller.

  15. bobbyperu completely nailed it…the movie is better than expected…i’ve read the books (part of the job) and enjoyed them as much as any ya titles…all this ignorant blowback is nothing more than the usual backlash against extremely successful pop culture material or the usual HE hater/contrariness nonsense…

    i’d argue though about ross being the ‘wrong guy’… he’s a huge fan of the books and (i think) that’s a necessary element for the first movie… i really felt this was more of a ‘hit’ than a ‘miss’..

    oh, and….

    DZ, shut the fuck up…you really know absolutely nothing….

  16. I wasn’t feeling it. It’s not BAD – well-intentioned, interesting ideas, nice to see a tween movie trying to be about SOMETHING, etc – but the budget (SHOCKINGLY cheap, looks like a modestly-expensive TV show), the production design (horrible) and probably also the PG13 kick the shit out of it’s prospects.

    It’s actually better BEFORE they get to the “Games” – Ross’s action scenes are terrible: the same tired-ass shakycam/fast-shutter/close-up crap you’d think everyone would be sick of by now with ZERO care given to choreography, geography or even composition.

  17. @jesse: I actually love Seabiscuit, but yes on Pleasantville as well. I cannot imagine the Hunger Games being BAD, which is what the tomatometer reflects. Iron Man was in the 90′s, and was it a masterpiece? Hell no, but it was a lot of fun and well made so critics felt compelled to give the thumbs up.

  18. moviebob — i’m usually on the same page as you but disagree here…keep in mind that the source material is for ‘young adult’ readers and that is (ultimately) the audience…i thought ross’ arena stuff was great in that it suggested the blood-fest but didn’t dwell…and, the shakey-cam stuff was to try to place the viewer IN the action, instead of just WATCHING it (at least, that’s what he told me)….it’s not a masterpiece but, i think, it derserves credit for serving its intended audience (not unlike ‘harry potter’, ‘girl w.dt’ and, even, the ‘bond’ stuff)….

  19. Ugh, did someone up there just use the “he’s a fan” defense? Who gives a shit what Ross thinks about the books? Mark Steven Johnson loved Daredevil. Raja Gosnell probably has a bunch of Smurf cartoons in his home. You think Irv Kirshner hated the first Robocop when he signed on to do Robocop 2? Of course not, because nobody hates Robocop. Robocop fucking rules.

    Anyway, I am curious to know what people think are the “interesting ideas” in this film that haven’t been seen in any other movie or TV show where people live vicariously through our youth, they commoditize our individuality, etc. etc. If you do this sort of shit at this point, you need to bring something fresh to the table, or at LEAST have a sense of humor about it. Series 7: The Contenders was, what, twelve years ago?

    What bugged me was that it felt almost word-for-word from the book, which I have not read. I got this vibe due to the sheer number of larger-than-life supporting characters, most of whom have nothing to do, all of whom are reduced to reaction shots in the second half of this movie.

    When it comes out, I do hope we’re all able to mock the awful ending, which is a reshoot disaster, filled with 1) A Confused antagonist, 2) Awful CGI, 3) Sudden trailer-like pacing 4) New locations and wardrobe suggesting an “eight months later” placard that never appears, 5) An absolute lack of thematic resolution.

  20. wtf?!..

    ‘it felt almost word-for-word from the book, which i have not read’…

    that, mi amigo, is a brilliant (not to mention, highly quotable) line…

    “i got this vibe due to the sheer number of larger-than-life supporting characters…”

    yes, amazing, it’s odd how that ‘larger-than-life’ thing has always been a problem in speculative fiction (especially aimed at the y.a. market)… and, forget about the fact this is the set-up for three more films…those fucking ‘supporting characters’ better have a reason to exist…NOW!

    you’re pretty much always a tool but, really…try to know something once in a while…

  21. I’m not getting the “intelligent” vibe either. I liked it. Much more than I anticipated. It’s pretty edgy at times, but many things are still clunky (every emotional scene, the idiotic love triangle etc.). I don’t understand why a lot of the above mentioned reviewers are so over the moon with it. I mean, are they so happy to see a franchise starter being actually much better than expected? Geez.

  22. Mr. F: “Once again, every single original concept in world history was first created by the Japanese. Every piece of art, whether it’s a book, music, movie or painting, is just stolen from them.”

    Well definitely Black Swan and Hunger Games, at least.

    Gabe: Kirshner’s not to blame for Robocop 2 as much as Miller. Though, as I’ve noted before, it’s pretty obvious Cameron strip-mined a lot of material from RC2 for T2.

  23. I really hope Jeff follows through with ‘Hunger Games’. He spends so much of his time deliberately trolling fanboys in order to get his post count high; I can’t wait to see what happens when he pisses off teenaged fangirls of ‘Hunger Games’, because I think they’ll be significantly less forgiving.

  24. I have not read the books, but everything I’ve read about the books and Suzanne Collins says that she is not familiar with Battle Royale. I myself hadn’t heard of it until I started reading stuff about THG. I think there’s just a lot of similar ideas out there — we all know the bit about no original plots, right? — and it’s a matter of a person’s take on the idea.

  25. Eve: If it was a 20 year gap, I’d give Collins that, but there’s too much working against her excuse to believe her.

  26. @THEMovieBob, yeah the trailer, besides the actual movie looking bad, makes this look like a TV movie with the shoddy production design that reeks of low budget. Definitely not interested in this.

  27. “I can’t wait to see what happens when he pisses off teenaged fangirls of ‘Hunger Games’, because I think they’ll be significantly less forgiving.”

    In the ENTIRE history of Jeff Wells’ writing, I doubt a SINGLE teenaged fangirl has read one word he’s ever written, nor would they care.

    Aside from DZ, that is.

  28. Kakihara — I post stories on some free websites, and let me tell you, there is a lot of similarity on certain themes, and many times, those authors haven’t read the similar work. It’s just coincidence. Now, I haven’t read or seen BR or THG, so maybe if and when I do, I’ll agree that there are too many similarities for it to be coincidence. But it’s funny what people don’t hear about, and it’s not like there haven’t been tons of “fight to the death” stories, involving teenagers or not. I’m willing to believe Collins wasn’t familiar with BR, that’s all.

  29. Can anyone really take credit for the idea of people fighting to the death for entertainment purposes, given that this stuff actually happened throughout history? Gladiators were fighting in Rome long before Battle Royale existed. It’s like someone claiming swordfights were invented for the movies.

  30. Scooter, you massive tool. You’re a slave to franchises, just like everyone else. The larger-than-life supporting characters aren’t a problem. The fact that they have nothing to do and no purpose is an issue. It feels translated from previously existing material because the film’s in such a rush to get us to know these people, even though they serve the story in no way. The prose of Suzanne Collins must be preserved, I suppose, no matter the cost to cinematic storytelling.

    Your arguing that its because they become more important in the sequel. In other words, the studio is using you to promote Hunger Games 2 before it even exists. The rest of us are reviewing The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games movie series is not a real thing yet. So if a bunch of people are standing around doing nothing, you don’t use it as an excuse to discuss “future installments” because then you’re just a sequel puppet, and not a thinking critic.

    I think a lot of critics are falling into this same trap, excusing shortcomings in favor of what they assume is long-form storytelling, a train of thought that shows a generation that are slaves to flat television storytelling instead of MOVIES. I bet these assholes would no problem if they went to see the new Wong Kar-Wai movie and commercials started airing in the middle.

  31. “It’s like someone claiming swordfights were invented for the movies.”

    Now that’s just stupid, Eloi. EVERYONE knows swordfights are real.

    They were invented by the Japanese, and the Europeans ripped them off in the Middle Ages.

  32. The marketing for this film is bizarre. The ads give no real impression of the story or characters. I go to the theater fairly consistently (25 plus times a year) and have yet to see a theatrical trailer for this. “Twilight” did the same thing. The studio just banks on the presold audience and doesn’t make an attempt to market to anyone who hasn’t read the book(s).

    Gary Ross is a wierd choice for a film like this too. The guy makes a movie once every eight years and has never had to handle any kind of action aesthetic unless you count the horse racing scenes in Seabiscuit.

  33. Gabe, I’d love to hear how The Hunger Games is “fascist.” You think it’s dumb? Ok, that’s a subjective opinion, and I won’t argue it. But fascist? I’ve read the books and one thing they are clearly not is fascist. So I’m left to believe that you either A) don’t know what that word means or B) you’re just talking out of your ass.

  34. Also, some have mentioned this already, but it bears repeating: if Collins “ripped of” anything for The Hunger Games, it was The Long Walk and The Running Man, two books that when combined almost exactly mirror the plot and action points of the first Hunger Games novel (and they had a much higher profile than Battle Royale, especially once re-released under King’s real name). Of course, the Most Dangerous Game is in there, as well, as it was in King’s works. If anything Battle Royale is guilty of ripping off those same works, which will hopefully blow DZ’s mind, now that he realizes the Japanese are not the only ones to inspire other artists.

  35. Ghost – I think the interesting thing is that King reviewed Hunger Games, in fact, I think there’s even a quote from him on the book jacket – and while he points out the similarities to his own work… he just mentions it as an aside and doesn’t belittle the book for being what it is. He still gives it a positive review.

    He’s not an asshole about it like DZ is, in other words.

    http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20419951_20223443,00.html

  36. bents75 – I agree. I think King understands that there is very little that is truly original when it comes to plots anymore, and it is really what you do with the premise that matters. I enjoyed all the Hunger Games books, but the first one is clearly superior to the rest in my opinion. And yet it is still inferior to The Long Walk, IMO. I’ve always wondered why no one decided to make a film out it. Actually, I just checked and Frank Darabont has apparently secured the rights to it. He says he plans to make it low-budget, “weird, existential, and very self contained.” Sounds like the perfect approach to me.

  37. THE DEPARTED SUCKS BECAUSE IT WAS A REMAKE OF A HONG KONG MOVIE!!!!!!!

    THE BEATLES SUCK BECAUSE ELVIS DID GUITAR-BASED LOVE SONGS BEFORE THEY DID!!!

    CARL YASTRZEMSKI SUCKS BECAUSE TED WILLIAMS WAS A LEFT HANDED LEFT FIELDER FOR THE RED SOX BEFORE HE WAS!!!

  38. Poland tore it a new one today.

    And yeah, the first book is superior to the other two. Two is the definite of a hammock book.

  39. Eve: “Kakihara — I post stories on some free websites, and let me tell you, there is a lot of similarity on certain themes, and many times, those authors haven’t read the similar work.”

    Again, someone who worked in Hollywood has fucking heard of it. They pirate the obscure Japanese shit directly. Just ask Charlie Sheen.

    Mr. F: “They were invented by the Japanese, and the Europeans ripped them off in the Middle Ages.”

    Well, the Europeans sure as shit didn’t invent gunpowder, stir-ups, or crossbows. Or even fucking salt, apparently.

    Ghost: “it was The Long Walk and The Running Man, two books that when combined almost exactly mirror the plot and action points of the first Hunger Games novel (and they had a much higher profile than Battle Royale,”

    Yeah, they had such a higher profile than Battle Royale that the Schwarzenegger movie one of them was based on bombed.

    bents: King probably gives it a pass, because he enjoys the action and horror genres too much to complain if his material’s being cribbed, and likes reading other people’s takes on certain stories.

    Jesse: The Departed sucked because it was a slower and whiter [Read "characters won't shut the fuck up and move forward with the story, because they want to sound cool."] version of the Hong Kong movies. And Elvis was the one who sucked, not the Beatles.

  40. “Well, the Europeans sure as shit didn’t invent gunpowder, stir-ups, or crossbows. Or even fucking salt, apparently.”

    I was only joking. And to be fair, the joke is a lot funnier in the original Japanese.

  41. “In the ENTIRE history of Jeff Wells’ writing, I doubt a SINGLE teenaged fangirl has read one word he’s ever written, nor would they care.”

    If he is the guy posting negative reviews that get linked on rotten-tomatoes, they’re going to read him pretty quick.

  42. Not sure why I feel compelled to defend an author whose books I’ve never read, but I found this article at the NY Times. If you go down, Collins is asked about the Battle Royale similarities; she says she never heard of it until she turned THG into the publisher, and the publisher advised her not to read it. According to the article, she still hasn’t read or seen it.

    Now, you may not believe her, and that’s okay, but I’m just passing it along.

  43. Eve: Again, how can someone who worked in Hollywood before publishing not have heard of it? It was a viral movie. New Line openly announced obtaining the remake rights two years before her fucking book.The novels and manga were in bookstores everywhere at one point.

  44. Kakihara — Look, I don’t know. I passed along an article; believe it, or Collins, or not as you like. As for her history, it looks mostly like she worked on children’s shows (and I know, I’ve seen some of the stuff she’s written, like Little Bear episodes. I’ve never heard of it, and I spend plenty of time on the computer, and have been through plenty of bookstores, not to mention browsing Amazon. If she didn’t pay attention to those things, then she may not have heard. I don’t know why you’re so intent on believing she knew about it; there is plenty of other stuff that could have influenced this. Most of the articles that mention them together also note that BR went in a completely different direction than THG. All I’m saying is I’m willing to believe she hadn’t heard of it, and if she’s lying, well, it’ll probably come out and that’ll be too bad. As for viral — just because something goes viral doesn’t mean everyone sees it.

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