Saturday, April 7, 2012

Shaky Camera Work in the Hunger Games

I was so excited to see the movie version of The Hunger Games.  Then, within the first five minutes, I realized it was going to be a shaky camera movie.  Ugh.  Why?????

The first half of the movie was literally nauseating.  Headache inducing.  I wished they'd hold the stupid camera still, so I could enjoy the great story.  And the kicker?  These weren't even action scenes. 

I've read a lot of people saying the jerky camera was to ramp up the tension, but the plot itself does a fine job of that.  Besides, if your audience can't tell what's going on, I don't think you're doing that great a job of building tension.

Other people say it's to show how Katniss' thoughts are jumping around, or how she can't afford to really focus on the whole big picture, or how much of the time she's just trying to survive, disconnected from the world.  Fine, as long as you can do it without majorly annoying or sickening your audience.

Then there's the argument that Katniss is experiencing everything fast and confusingly, so the only way for us to experience it that way is to have fast and confusing camera angles.  Uhh…we experienced it just fine in the book, without any special effects.  And if you compare Suzanne Collin's writing style to that of a camera, I would never describe it as jerky.  

To me, the shaky camera is gimmicky and off-putting.  In writing, we talk a lot about how you don't want to push your readers out of the story.  You don't want to clutter your prose with too many big words, too many synonyms for "said," or too many wild stylistic stand-outs.  These can easily upstage the characters.  That's the last thing you want to do.  Well, to me, the shaky camera shoves me out of the story more quickly than bad acting or budget special effects or even flat dialogue.

During the second half of the movie, ironically, when Katniss IS fighting for her life in deadly action scenes, the cameras aren't quite so bad.  Still, I couldn't tell what was happening in any of the fight scenes.  The camera would pan out for a moment and I'd sigh in relief, then BOOM it was back to a bunch of shaky close-up blurs.  Doing this strategically to minimize the on-screen violence is fine.  But strategic it wasn't, and annoyed I was.

It's really a shame too, because I thought the adaptation was spectacular.  Yes, they changed a few odd details, but overall I think it really captured the book as well as any movie can.  The visuals are great.  The acting is excellent.  The pacing is spot on.  If only they'd bought one of those camera stabilizers beforehand, or tested it afterwards on an audience of people who like to actually see what's going on, it would have been a near perfect experience.

And Suzanne Collins, I've said it before, and I'll say it again:  wow.  I wish I had written this.


  1. I agree. The movie made me SO SICK with the shaky camera. I had to leave the theater for a little while and recover. Luckily the next two movies will have a different director.

  2. I hadn't heard that they'll have a different director. I hope he has them hold the camera still sometimes. Otherwise, I think this director did fine.

  3. The shaky camera thing might be a gimmick they use for films geared for younger audiences. Maybe to look like video games? I don't know. I feel like I've been on a boat after watching something like Transformers. Maybe that's because I'm old.

  4. I agree with this review. The shaky cam in the beginning had me nauseated for the rest of the film and several hours afterward. So much so that I couldn't enjoy the movie. If it wasn't the shaky cam then it was the close ups. When I read the books, I didn't picture the shaky cam nor did I the extraordinary amount of close-ups. The movie did capture the story pretty well though. A steadier camera would have made it more enjoyable.

  5. I had not read the book, so I didn't know a lot about the story. But I was looking forward to the movie, because many people had recommended seeing it.

    I was so disappointed when almost immediately, the shaky camera work started. I had to close my eyes and ask my companion what was happening. I am one of those people who gets nauseated in such movies.

    It reminded me of the ABC television show "LOST". I loved the series, but hated the camera work. I'm sure that I missed important scenes in that, too.

    Back to "Hunger Games". It was a very thought provoking movie, and I think they did a very good job EXCEPT for the shaky camera. Maybe if I read the book, the nausea would only come from the very sad thoughts about man's inhumanity to man. It certainly gives us all something to think about.

  6. I am pleased to see that others felt the same about the jerky camera work. It was VERY annoying and almost caused me to hope the movie was shorter than advertised... Not good. Otherwise the movie was very enjoyable due to the excellent acting and likeability of the main characters. I am looking forward to the second installment.

  7. Agree. Well said.