Miming the visual language of reality TV
by Mr. Nobel
The hunger games, as you may or may not know, is a series of stomach punching exercises that dieters frequently do to take their minds off of eating food. The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is a smash-hit satire cum teenage romance story book turned into a recently opened smash-hit satire cum teenage romance movie.
The titular games is a nightmarish sci-fi interpretation of modern reality TV in which 24 tributes from various districts in the future United States (Panem) compete to see who can kill each other the fastest. Perhaps unsurprisingly, director Gary Ross chooses to approximate the visual cues and beats associated with modern reality TV in filming his adaptation.
You know the drill: people running the show say something dramatic, cut to cameraman shakily panning to close ups of the main protagonists, rinse and repeat. All other shots are a blend of static, obviously staged long shots, and semi-frantic handheld shots in which the camera operators desperately try to the follow unscripted action.
Aesthetically and pragmatically, this visual rhythm makes sense. We get the look that we subconsciously associate with reality TV while the scenes take less time to shoot (the director can give more general instructions to his camera crew instead of meticulously framing and blocking each shot). To a point, this method works in the movie.
Some shots, however, are just terribly composed. Consider the following two shots from the film:
In the first shot, Katniss occupies the right side of the frame. This shot is then match cut to a shot of Prim’s hand occupying the right side of the frame with the pin. The characters swap sides of the frame, making the transition between the two shots jarring and ever so slightly confusing. There are numerous other instances scattered throughout the first act where bad camerawork either obscures or confuses action to detrimental effect.
It’s admirable that Ross decided to imbue his movie with a peculiar yet narratively logical aesthetic. However, he makes two massive flaws in his approach. Many of the shots in the film are just poorly framed, considered and edited. Whether that’s because of less precise direction or just because the production team was screwed for time is something we might find out when the DVD comes out.
The other big, big problem with his approach is that his camera is incredibly frenetic during the first act scenes in District 12, i.e. the parts outside of the games, but winds up calming down during the actual fucking games part of The Hunger Games. This sort of approach is just…weird. Why the fuck are you starting to use a tripod when Katniss starts running through the god damned forest, man? Why would you intentionally make the opening that’s supposed to draw in new viewers and explain the world of Panem incredibly hard to follow and shakey up the fucking ass?
What the fucking fuck, mate?
Maybe I’m giving Ross too much credit. Maybe, instead of all this reality TV bullshit, Ross just watched too much Winter’s Bone and wanted to emulate that film’s camerawork in the sections of the film set in District 12. Whatever, bro. Enjoy the Everest-sized mountain of cash your film just earned.