The Hunger Games Review
Is it good? That is all we really want to know. After a staggering year of marketing and rampant word of mouth surrounding the young-adult novels,The Hunger Games
film is here. Not since the first "Harry Potter" has a book-to-film adaptation had so much riding on it in terms of pleasing a rabid fanbase while adding new recruits to the cause, and gladly, director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit
) and his crew hit the ground running with few missteps.
The story takes place in the near-future, when much of North America lies in ruin. The nation of Panem has risen in the heart of the Appalachia, consisting of 12 outlying districts and a central Capitol. As a result of a failed rebellion against the Capitol, every year each district must send one boy and one girl to the Capitol to compete in what is known as the Hunger Games: a televised death match in which the last child left standing wins.
16-year old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in District 12, the poorest in the nation, looking after her little sister and emotionally absent mother. She spends most of her days hunting (illegally) in the woods with her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), dreaming of life outside the Capitol's control. When her sister Prim is chosen to compete in the latest Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place and is shipped off to the Capitol with fellow classmate Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). There, they learn what it will take for them to survive against a shifting battlefield, media scrutiny and fellow Tributes who have trained their whole lives to kill.
The film gets off to a rocky start, especially if you have have differing images of the characters/places in the book versus onscreen. Some lines feel a touch forced in an attempt to wink at the source material, most notably in the early scenes between Katniss and Gale. Mercifully, things pick up quickly by the time of the Reaping, with the introduction of Peeta and the damn bubbly Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). As the film makes its way out of District 12, everyone and everything begins to feel less static and more organic.
A lot of comparisons (for whatever reason) have been made between The Hunger Games
and to make them would be an injustice to "Games," let alone its superior lead heroine. Katniss is brash, opinionated, dedicated and a survivor at her core. She's also a teenager, which given her penchant for looking after others such as Peeta and fellow tribute Rue (Amandla Stenberg), is easy to forget. If she reacts like a child, it is because she technically is. One who has been carrying a lot of weight on her back, emotionally and otherwise. She's not a perfect character, but she has definitely become ingrained in pop culture very quickly. Lawrence's ability to take Katniss and make the role her own is impressive and indicative of her rapidly developing talent. While it isn't a revelation, her performance is far from flat and oftentimes mixes great focus with a few dashes of desperately needed humor.
The supporting cast is also strong, if a little sporadic since the film is all about Katniss and Peeta. Hutcherson does the best he can, and attempts to give Peeta a touch more complexity than his book counterpart. The end result is liking Peeta just a little bit more, even if he is a little useless. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch (mentor to Katniss and Peeta) and Banks nail their respective parts when needed but are never given enough time to really flesh things out before the film shifts focus to the Games. The same can be said for Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), Katniss's stylist. Everyone is hugging her before she enters the arena but regrettably, viewers unfamiliar with the book won't quite understand why.
The overall look of the film is a not-so-subtle balance between shaky and steady shots. District 12 is an organic setting and a bit of a hellhole; it's home to the dark mining facilities where many workers die and there is plenty of nature to be had. In contrast, the Capitol is glossed over and static. Any scenes involving the Capitol setting are physically steady and crisp. By the time the Games arrive, we are thrown back into shaky territory and while it goes with the naturalistic setting of the battleground, it is also clear this violent use of shake-camera isn't just about setting a tone.
"Games" is definitely a PG-13 but a hard one and it has the camera work to thank for it. Ross isn't known for doing action and the camera work during the fights (especially the opening of the Games) exemplify this while showing he's a clever bastard. Like the book, there isn't a lack of death in "Games" and if done in such a way, it could easily earn an "R" rating, risking its ability to reach a widespread audience. By obscuring the violent images, Ross can get away with his lower rating and play up the thematics of violence, especially when seen through the eyes of kids.
Unlike the more subtle references to the book, the film makes no secret that the theme of the series is revolution. Whether it be Peeta's lines of wanting to die as himself, a riot that breaks out due to the Games or President Snow (Donald Sutherland) lecturing how hope is dangerous, the entire film is banking that the other books will be adapted—alluding to the war that is coming. This is especially true to the ending, which leaves several threads in the air while not exactly raising the stakes for either Katniss, Peeta or the nation of Panem. While the end is abrupt, there's no need to be pissed because you and the filmmakers know the second entry is coming. So patience.
Overall, The Hunger Games
is a solid film, both as an adaptation and standalone movie. While we don't get as great a look at the supporting players, we do get a lead we can root for. The action is unsettling and the scope is undeniably attractive to the world of film. With two more entries lined up, The Hunger Games
has laid the groundwork for what could truly be some great sci-fi—as long as the supporting players can be bolstered and fleshed out so the core themes of the story can flow through them.