Criterion Corner #15: What If 'The Hunger Games' Had Been Directed By Wes Anderson, Michael Bay or Alfred Hitchcock?

Criterion Corner #15: What If 'The Hunger Games' Had Been Directed By Wes Anderson, Michael Bay or Alfred Hitchcock?

Apr 06, 2012

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I hate The Hunger Games

I don't hate it because it’s intended for young adults or because I have an aversion to monolithic blockbusters. I don't hate it because the shaky-cam is so overused that it makes The Blair Witch Project feel like an Ozu film, or even because dystopias make me chafe. I hate The Hunger Games because it's lazy and safe, and because it doesn't bother to make Panem a coherent fantasy world for those who aren't already intimately familiar with it. I hate The Hunger Games because Gary Ross' film feels transposed from the novel rather than reworked for the screen, and if the enduring love for Alfonso Cuaron's bold adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban has taught me anything, it's that things didn't have to be this way.

The Hunger Games could have been great -- at the very least, it could have tried. You'd think a tentpole franchise built around the idea of teenagers brutally murdering each other would invite a certain element of artistic risk-taking, but the film plays as if its very existence is such a significant gamble that its execution must be relied upon to restore a feeling of safety. As a result, Katniss' life never feels in danger, the situation in Panem never feels particularly dire, and the Hunger Games themselves unfold with all the suspense and Liam Hemsworth of a Nicholas Sparks movie, only with half the pathos. But now comes word that Gary Ross -- a talented guy who was maybe a bit too far out of his comfort zone on this one -- has departed the franchise, and suddenly there's new hope for Katniss and the people of District 12. 

With Ross out of the picture, Lionsgate has been provided another golden opportunity to take the kind of risk worthy of Suzanne Collins' violent saga, but will they? If any studio knows how satisfying it can be to embrace the unexpected, it's the one that's about to release Drew Goddard's brilliantly surprising horror film The Cabin in the Woods. With that in mind, I thought it might be fun to imagine what The Hunger Games might have been like had Lionsgate ceded complete creative control to some of the greatest and most fiercely idiosyncratic auteurs in movie history. The results may not have been quite as pleasing to the franchise's rabid fanbase, but the film sure would've been... interesting. It's own thing. And who knows, maybe this little exercise will give Lionsgate some ideas as to whom they should hire for the next installment (just ignore the fact that most of the directors invoked below are really, really dead).

Fortunately for you guys, the odds are never in my favor.

P.S. If I were being completely serious about all this, my vote would go to Andrea Arnold. There’s no doubt in my mind that she would have cut to the core of The Hunger Games, dismissing all the fan service in favor of an adaptation so vital and immediate that the franchise’s fans would actually be served. 

  • Chantal Akerman: Katniss Everdeen spends her days trying to prepare dinner for her little brother, Sylvain, but soon discovers that cooking is exceptionally boring when you don’t have any food. Frustrated, she volunteers as tribute for the Hunger Games, where -- armed with only a pair of kitchen scissors -- she murders all of the men in competition. 
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  • Wes Anderson: Haymitch Abernathy is obviously played by Owen Wilson, while Gene Hackman returns from retirement to portray President Snow (Mia Wasikowska is Katniss -- Jennifer Lawrence’s face is just too naturally emotive). When Rue dies she gives an epic and grandiose speech. Everyone has an intern, and the interns compete in their own Intern Hunger Games. The film ends with Katniss and Peeta walking out of the arena hand-in-hand as David Bowie sings “Sons of the Silent Age.”
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  • Michael Bay: Katniss is a Victoria’s Secret model and Haymitch is played by Kid Rock. The other tributes keep finding Katniss’ hiding spots, because every time she sees a new weapon she screams: “I have got to get me one of these!” The tracker jackers have little testicles and are probably also racist. Only a handful of North Carolina residents survive the production. Thanks to the empowering nature of Suzanne Collins’ source text, the final film is only half as misogynistic as every other movie Michael Bay has ever made. Spoiler alert: Something pees on John Turturro.
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  • Stan Brakhage: Pretty much the same movie as the one that was released in theaters, but a lot shorter.
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  • Ingmar Bergman: Katniss Everdeen is a God-fearing young woman, whose faith is tested when she’s selected to compete in the 74th annual Hunger Games. Her train ride to the Capitol offers only one quick glimpse of the world outside the window, but nevertheless paints a far more compelling picture of the tensions in Panem than Gary Ross was able to over the course of 146 minutes. Katniss is obviously a blonde, and it’s “President von Sydow,” to you.
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  • Robert Bresson: Katniss only appears to be the film’s hero until her encounter with the tracker jackers, at which point the camera hones in on one of the genetically modified bees, and begins to follow the little guy as he flies around the arena, looking for one of the tributes to love him. Rue attempts to swat him dead, that evil blonde kid who had no other defining qualities refuses to even acknowledge him, and eventually the tracker jacker (TJ) just starts kicking it with the muttations before he meets an untimely demise. Katniss’ life is unremarkable, but the audience finds God.
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  • James L. Brooks The brunt of the movie takes place in the Hunger Games studio, as Seneca Crane and Caesar Flickerman argue about how to present the Games to their audience. Seneca believes that their job is to show the people of the Districts the Games as they really are, so that they’re reminded of the weight of their rebellion, whereas Caesar believes that the broadcast has to be entertaining so that the crowds will keep watching, at all. They both have huge crushes on Katniss. Joan Cusack plays Effie Trinket, and all of the men in the film make befuddling comments about wanting to have sex with her.

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  • Luis Buñuel: In this ruthless exposé of government hypocrisy, Katniss and Peeta try to leave the arena but soon discover that they are trapped. As the number of tributes dwindles, the Gamemakers begin revising the rules so quickly that they soon lose all meaning (not unlike in the actual film). 
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  • David Cronenberg: Well, the muttations are awesome. Viggo Mortenson plays Seneca Crane, and his penis plays Caesar Flickerman. The Hunger Games are broadcast to the Districts on a pirated feed -- the people who watch them are never the same. The film struggles to qualify for a PG-13 rating.
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  • Lena Dunham Dunham plays Katniss, herself, making sure that no one obsesses about her weight more than she. Prim is pretty and perfect and Effie Trinket personally removes her name from the list of eligible tributes because no one wants Prim to suffer. Katniss’ mom is the best archer in all of Panem. Rather than watching the actual Hunger Games, the people of Panem instead stream silly clips of Katniss falling over in the woods. Katniss recognizes Peeta from high school and is totally embarrassed to see him, but they end up having really unromantic sex in that cave, anyway. The camera never moves, not even after Katniss is horribly murdered with 4 tributes still remaining. Everyone hates the movie (especially the people who never see it), but no one can really explain why.
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  • Rainer Werner Fassbinder: All four Hunger Games films are shot within 6 weeks. One of Katniss’ sponsors sends her a pouch filled with cocaine, and it proves to be invaluable. Unlike in Gary Ross’ film there actually is set design, though the costumes remain about the same.
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  • Federico Fellini: Well, the parade scene in which the tributes are introduced is totally awesome, that’s for sure. The film ultimately centers around the creative crisis Seneca Crane experiences as he tries to find a way to differentiate this year’s Hunger Games from the 73 that preceded it. The hallucinations that Katniss experiences after being attacked by tracker jackers are epic.
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  • Terry Gilliam: The film is cancelled on the 5th day of production after a rogue comet devastates Jennifer Lawrence.
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  • Alfred Hitchcock:  Katniss is a Capitol resident enjoying her summer vacation in District 12, when a slip of paper with her name on it accidentally finds its way into Effie Trinket’s fishbowl of doom during the reaping, and Katniss is forced to compete in the Hunger Games. Katniss is played by Ingrid Bergman, and her impossibly shiny hair makes her an easy target. Peeta is played by Cary Grant, and Gale is played by Gregory Peck. A cheeseburger plays the MacGuffin.
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  • Jean-Luc Godard: The kids competing in the Hunger Games are the children of Marx and no Coca-Cola. Katniss dies. Peeta dies. Gale dies. Cinema dies. Towards the end of the Hunger Games, Katniss covers her face in the blue juice of Nightlock berries. She’s also probably a prostitute. 

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  • Abbas Kiarostami: We watch the citizens of District 12 watching the Hunger Games. We eventually overhear Katniss and Peeta being told that the games are over, and that have both emerged as winners. They return to their district and continue to live their lives, but the food promised to their people never arrives. Katniss stares into Kiarostami’s camera, as if the people of the Capitol are watching her through it. It seems as if the Hunger Games may continue for as long as either she or Peeta are both alive.
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  • Chris Marker: Katniss is an actual cat.
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  • Terrence Malick: Katniss spends most of the movie hiding in a tree, whispering about death in her constant voiceover narration. The film skirts around its tight budget by using eccentrically dressed Austin City Limits attendees as residents of the Capitol (given how unimportant they are to the movie, no one even notices).  
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  • Jean-Pierre Melville: The film is shot in the greyest dead of winter, but it’s okay because all of the tributes are given a fedora in order to keep themselves warm. The scene in which sacks of supplies are left in an open field is a complicated heist. The text with which the film opens is a fake proverb from the Panem Constitution. And those senseless alliances that are formed between Peeta and some of the other tributes during the early stages of the Hunger Games? Yeah, those don’t end well.
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  • Nagisa Oshima: Even more edits than Ross’ version, but they all make sense in their destruction. Somehow, Katniss manages to smuggle a few hardboiled eggs into the arena for rations. Once she and Peeta find themselves in that cave, they just sort of forget about the Hunger Games in favor of... other activities. Katniss’ finishing move scars an entire generation of young American movie-goers, and Gale is a little afraid of her when she returns to District 12. 
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  • Yasujiro Ozu: Katniss’ father calmly laments how their children are tributes over an empty pot of tea in their kitchen. He watches Katniss compete on TV and glumly nods along with the action. The Hunger Games proceed as usual (though we never learn if Katniss wins), and the seasons pass. The camera moves exactly one time. It is widely considered to be the greatest film ever made. 
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  • Pier Paolo Pasolini: President Coriolanus Snow is the lead character, and the brunt of the film takes place in Snow’s mansion during the 2-week period when the tributes are preparing for the Hunger Games. When the tributes learn what kind of food they’ll be fighting for, they’re not exactly thrilled. Effie Trinket is slightly toned down. 
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  • Jean Painlevé: Katniss is a seahorse. 
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  • Jacques Tati: Monsieur Hulot, a tourist, is somehow selected to fight in the Hunger Games. He clumsily observes the foreign way of life in the Capitol (the scene in which he struggles to adjust the flame-jets in his latex fire-suit is particularly memorable). He later bumbles his way into the actual games, where -- despite being awarded an overall rating of 2 -- he eventually wins by using his pipe to murder Peeta.

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  • Lars von Trier:: The Hunger Games are totally the same, the only difference being that Katniss is the only female contestant. The film is interrupted by the same chapter breaks that are evident in the novel. Fox-face eats herself. The muttations eat themselves. The Fox-face muttation eats itself. Chaos reigns. Oh, and the movie probably isn’t shot in North Carolina.
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  • Francois Truffaut: Gale and Peeta are BFF, but their friendship is threatened by their shared love for Katniss. Following the Hunger Games, all three kids decide to shack up together and live as one happy couple, but Gale’s initial happiness gives way to resentment that Katniss and Peeta share a battle-tested experience that binds them together in an exclusionary way. There’s lots of sex and then Katniss kills herself. 
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  • Peter Weir: Katniss has no idea that the Hunger Games are being televised. Seneca wears a beret, and whenever Donald Sutherland shows up Seneca says: “Cue the Snow” (note: He’s executed a lot earlier in this version of the movie). Philip Glass’ score is a knockout, but several critics argue that his 27-minute interpretation of the Mockingjay call, while beautiful, nevertheless interferes with the pacing of the film. Much like in the actual film, some of the tributes completely vanish and nobody really knows what happened to them.
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  • Wim Wenders: The film is told from the perspective of the sponsors, one of whom is so in love with Katniss that he wishes he himself could participate in the games, even if it means that his newfound mortality would be put to an immediate test. You’d think that making the protagonist invincible for most of the movie would make things a bit less intense than they were in Gary Ross’ adaptation, but no.
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  • Wong Kar-Wai: Katniss, Peeta, and Gale are each treated as a main character, all three of them afforded their own voiceover track. Gale is really obsessed with expired cans of pineapples -- not because they remind him of Katniss, but because they’re pretty much the only source of sustenance he has. Instead of being visually foul and incoherent, the movie is shot by Christopher freakin’ Doyle. 

 

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