The Hunger Games Review: Can This Teen Novel Adaptation Win the Adulation of a Non-Fan?

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The Basics:

The Hunger Games tells the story of sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen, a young girl from the incredibly impoverished District 12. District 12 rest in the lands of Panem, a post United States nation consisting of twelve distinct districts. As punishment for a past rebellion against the government, all the Districts must submit two underage “tributes” a year to compete in The Hunger Games, a nationwide event broadcast on live television that potrarys the children fighting to the death.  Fame and riches await the winner of the competition…but death awaits all the losers.  And after Katniss’ younger sister is chosen to compete in the games, Katniss sees only one option for herself; to take her sister’s place in the competition and offer herself as tribute.  

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, and Woody Harrelson

Written By: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray

Directed By: Gary Ross

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The Delivery:

My experience with The Hunger Games is pretty limited. Unlike approximately everyone on the planet (rough estimation, but you know what I mean), I’ve never read the entire trilogy. I read about half of the first book a couple years ago and, even though I enjoyed the book, I decided to hold off on finishing it strictly because a movie adaptation was in the works. Why did I choose this route? Well, in my opinion, if you read the book first, your experience watching the movie will not be as rich because you know everything that’s going to happen. It’s not this way for everyone but, for me, it is. So whenever I know a movie is being made off of a popular book, I hold off reading the book until I’ve seen the movie (in that way, the book works kind of as a more detailed “extended cut” of the story once I read it). So that’s why, going into The Hunger Games, I wouldn’t call myself a super fan. But because I didn’t have a fanboy bias to the source material, I hopped I could judge the film on a purely qualitative level.

And for the most part, I think The Hunger Games works. First things first, understand this; The Hunger Games is not a $200 million dollar, R-rated sci-fi epic. It’s a simple, moderately budgeted film with few action scenes and a very nice looking forest as its backdrop. It’s not going to blow your mind, or make you immediately sit down the next day and read all the books. But for a two and a half hour trip to the movie theater, you could certainly do worse. As I said before, the film isn’t very expansive; Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings this is not. Probably 3/4 of the film takes place in a forest, and there are only really a few action scenes (which, for me at least, was kind of a blessing in disguise, but more on that later). The film doesn’t look horrible, but I was never exactly amazed by what I saw on screen. Regardless, visual spectacle isn’t what the film was going for anyways, so I guess it’s a moot (if still a little disappointing point).

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What the film was going for, however, was emotional residence which I will admit, it occasionally got. Seeing kids murdered on screen is a rare occurrence, so just seeing it on film alone is shocking. Sure, the camera moves in ways that obstruct any real violence, but the impact is still felt. Probably my favorite part in the entire film is the beginning of the Games itself, as the 24 contestants rush to receive supplies. It’s a violent affair, and was played completely silent in one of the coolest directing touches from director Gary Ross. And when you see a child’s blood smear on the corner of a table, the impact of just what horrors these kids are going through is pretty well felt.

Probably the biggest highlight of this film, though, is actress Jennifer Lawrence, who is great as lead character Katniss Everdeen. Well I had my doubts before about Lawrence’s casting, I will admit that she has this physicality and gravitas about her that makes her the perfect choice for Katniss. Most of the film balances on Lawrence’s shoulder, and she did an impressive job of bringing this character to life. Lawrence is certainly helped by an impressive supporting cast of talented adult actors, who all seem to be having a lot of fun with their roles. Woody Harrelson is perfect as Haymitch, the former Hunger Games victor turned drunk who serves as Katniss and Peeta’s mentor in the games. Elizabeth Banks is a lot of fun too as Effie Trinket, even though her character design didn’t do much for me. Rounding out the adult cast is Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, and Lenny Kravitz, who all put in fun performances here, especially Tucci, who’s Caesar Flickerman is a delight every time he comes on screen. Even though I was very impressed by the supporting adult cast, I can’t say the same about the other teen actors; both Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson add very little to their characters of Gale and Peeta respectively. Hopefully they’ll have a better chance to define themselves in the next two films.

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The Hunger Games isn’t without its flaws and of those, two big ones come to mind. First, the film is just a tad bit long—it takes like 45 minutes just for the actually Games to begin and, half way through them, I felt that the film began to drag on (as most two and a half hour films begin to do). Secondly, the action in this film is simply horrendous—there’s a time and a place for steady cam action, and this isn’t it. I don’t know why steady cam is so popular right now; honestly, I just wish it would die already. When I see an action scene, it’s pretty cool to have a fraction of an idea of what’s happening; steady cam makes action incomprehensible. It’s a shame Hunger Games chose to go this route, even if it only chose to do it to make it easier to hide all the violence (which is the only reason I could come up with as to why Hunger Games would go this route). Still, damn shame. Damn shame indeed.


Overall:

The Hunger Games is a very successful adaptation that manages to impressive fans and non-fans alike.  It isn’t a completely flawless film, though; the film is a little too long, the action is pretty horrendous, and some of the relationships are pretty ill defined (specifically the ones between Katniss and Peeta and Katniss and Rue).  But overall, there’s worse ways too spend a Saturday afternoon at the theater than watching The Hunger Games.

Score: 7.5 out of 10

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Loose Ends:

-The ending doesn’t really leave things open for a sequel…I’m curious where they are going to go with this (although I’m sure fans already know!)

-As I said above, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Katniss/Peeta relationship or the Katniss/Rue relationship.  Both felt pretty forced, and not at all effecting.

-The randomly forming dogs made no sense to me, until someone expalined how it happend in the book…much more disturbing, and its a shame they didn’t include it in the film.

-Speaking of which, the violence in the film felt strangely subdued.  I knew there wasn’t going to be heads blown off or anything, but still…it’s a shame that we can sugar coat murder so easily just so a film can attain a PG-13 rating.

-Finally, I leave you with this gif of Woody Harrelson giving you a Thumbs Up.  You’re welcome.

 Haymirch ThumbsUp

Ah…so glorious.

-Matthew