Image Credit: Lee Roth/RothStock/PR PhotosDear Gary Ross: According to Variety, you’re all-but-officially the director of the Hunger Games movie. Congratulations! You haven’t directed a movie in seven years — Seabiscuit, saw it– and now you’re at the center of the next big young-adult franchise. Hooray! Now, I hope you won’t mind, but I have one minor request: Please, please, please, please, don’t make The Hunger Games gritty. Don’t shoot the movie with handheld cameras. Don’t bleach all the color out of the film stock until everything looks like rusted Depression-era gunmetal. Don’t forget: Katniss Everdeen is not Jason Bourne.
Now, I’m no snob. Gritty can be cool. Heck, calling a movie “gritty” used to be a compliment. Saving Private Ryan, The Lord of the Rings, and The Bourne Identity all took sainted genres known for glossy excess — the war film, the fantasy epic, the espionage thriller — and smeared them in mud. Actors spoke every line in an angry whisper. The color scheme was monochromatic, mostly hovering between comatose-blue and industrial-gray. It was awesome…for awhile. But now, “gritty” is everywhere. We’ve seen the Gritty James Bond movie, the Gritty Superhero movie, the Gritty Twilight movie, the Gritty Terminator movie. We’ve seen Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, the single muddiest movie ever made.
I understand the impulse to go gritty with Hunger Games. It’s post-apocalyptic, like Children of Men and all the real-world scenes in The Matrix. Katniss lives in District 12, a coal-mining town that reads like a Soviet hellhole. The latter half of the book is one extended action sequence — sound like it demands the extreme-close-up/shaky-cam tension of a Bourne film, right?
Wrong. Reading Hunger Games, you’re struck by just how vivid and alive the forest is. It’s Katniss’ escape from drudgery, the one place she can really feel alive. Listen to her describe the valley outside of District 12: “teeming with summer life, greens to gather, roots to dig, fish iridescent in the sunlight.” That’s sounds more like the Technicolor-organic wilderness of Avatar than the dark, shadowy woods of Twilight. Conversely, the Capitol reads like a fascist version of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek: too bright, too colorful, overpopulated with highly-caffeinated supermodels. But again, no gritty here.
Mr. Ross, Hunger Games has an instantly exciting storyline, and I have to believe that even a lame treatment of the book will result in a pulse-pounding action movie. But just because ugly things happen in Hunger Games doesn’t mean the film should look ugly. Heck, making Hunger Games gritty is the equivalent of adding a CGI stormcloud over President Snow’s head and adding explanatory subtitles to every scene: “VIOLENCE IS WRONG. DON’T DO FASCISM.”
Don’t make things too easy for the audience. Don’t forget about Suzanne Collins’ biting satirical edge, or her beautifully expansive vision of the world outside the fence. Don’t be afraid to unleash your inner Paul Verhoeven, or your inner Terrence Malick. Don’t go gritty. Hunger Games fans (and people who suffer from motion sickness) will thank you.
Darren J. Franich, anti-grit crusader and self-described Hunger Games expert