The Hunger Games ReviewMarch 27, 2012
I think anyone can agree that Hollywood is constantly searching for the next big thing to milk cash from. With the end of Harry Potter as of last year, along with the impending conclusions of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and The Twilight Saga later this year (thank goodness for that), this rings true more than perhaps ever before. Thankfully, the folks at Hollywood have finally gotten their hands on arguably the most popular of recently published teen novel series, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I say “thankfully” because these three books are actually very well written, compelling and mature enough for both teenage and adult readers, easily spelling out success for a film adaptation. Now that the film version of Collins’ dystopian novel has finally arrived in theaters worldwide, are the odds truly in favor of Jennifer Lawrence, director Gary Ross and the rest of the crew of The Hunger Games?
A couple hundred years in the future, what used to be known as North America (more specifically, the United States) now makes up the nation of Panem. About 75 years prior to the events of the film, the then thirteen districts of Panem unsuccessfully rebelled against the oppressive government housed at the nation’s Capitol, and after the destruction of District 13, the remaining twelve districts pledged to never rebel again and subject their loyalty to the Capitol in the pursuit of “peace.” As an additional punishment for the rebellion, the Capitol orders that every year, each district will be forced to randomly choose one teenage boy and girl at what is known as a reaping for participation in The Hunger Games, a bloody battle to the death that eventually leaves only one lucky victor alive with the other 23 dead. Enter Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old girl who resides in District 12, a poor coal mining town in the forests of the Appalachian Mountains. She works with her best friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) to provide for and protect her family, who are all suffering greatly from the tragic death of the father. When the reaping comes around, Katniss’ younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is selected as a tribute, but due to Katniss’ extremely protective nature when it comes to Prim, she instinctively volunteers as the female tribute in her place. Traveling alongside Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson), the son of bakers in District 12, the two are sent off to the Capitol to prepare for the glorified bloodbath that is the Hunger Games…
Hype: it can either build up or ultimately destroy a film’s potential to become something great. Thankfully for all of us, the immense hype surrounding The Hunger Games has paid off, and then some. I was afraid that the story would feel rather rushed due to the fact that all book adaptations have to cram in a certain amount of detail to have a decent runtime, and that definitely did happen here in this film. Nonetheless, The Hunger Games is one of the best book adaptations I have seen in a long time. This is mostly because the book was incredible in the first place, but possibly also because the book’s author, Suzanne Collins, collaborated with Billy Ray and director Gary Ross on the screenplay. Not only are the most important events from the book included in the film version, the dialogue is crisp, character development is nicely (albeit imperfectly) handled, and above all, the emotional power of the novel remains. The Hunger Games also has great pacing; the first half does well to acquaint audiences with the bleak world of Panem and the characters that inhabit it, using plenty of subtle humor and suitably powerful drama to demand the attention of viewers. However, the second half definitely ups the intensity level and managed to hook me in even more as The Hunger Games began. During this last hour spent in The Arena, the writing team managed to almost perfectly blend action, drama, realism and chilling suspense to emphasize the horribly violent nature of The Games. Not only that, the romantic scenes between Katniss and Peeta are emotional and well-portrayed even amidst the bleak backdrop of The Hunger Games.
Many people have criticized The Hunger Games (book and film, mind you) for being a “teenified” version of Battle Royale, but at this point who truly cares? I can understand those accusations, but considering that The Hunger Games is a different story and Suzanne Collins has cited gladiators as her inspiration, you may rest assured that The Hunger Games is not a result of plagiarism. I truly see this story (along with the trilogy in its entirety) as an allegory to the damaging effects of war on everyday people, because for one thing it’s hard to look at all 12 districts of Panem and not feel something for these people; innocents who continue to suffer for the fact that they wanted freedom many years before. Also, the Games themselves prove to be rather hard-hitting with the ways that the tributes change as they progress, with some showing pity toward less fortunate contestants, while other tributes turn bloodthirsty and become cold-hearted killers. The reason why I say “hard-hitting” is because we live in a war-ravaged world, with violence still raging furiously in the Middle East and American veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. Other than that, The Hunger Games is a superb representation of the book’s story and ever-so-important themes, and fans of the book should definitely rejoice at how well the novel translated onto the silver screen. If you haven’t read the book, all of the very small details carried over from the novel may confuse you and take away some of your personal enjoyment. Even so, The Hunger Games is very enjoyable and easy enough to follow if you haven’t read the novel (something that the ideal book adaptation should accomplish).
One of The Hunger Games’ greatest strengths is its stellar cast, headed by the spectacular Jennifer Lawrence. As you may have already heard, the Oscar-nominated actress (who was widely considered 2010’s breakout actress after her performance in Winter’s Bone) was the perfect choice for Katniss Everdeen. Despite being a natural blonde (her hair was dyed brown for the role), she looks almost exactly how I pictured Katniss while reading the novel. Not only that, her performance as Katniss Everdeen (at least, in terms of her personality in the novel) is simply perfect. I won’t exactly give much away about her performance, but let’s just say that she harbors the same exact emotion as the character in the book, and I was completely convinced with her performance. The Academy tends to be rather stingy when it comes to giving award nominations to franchise films, so I can hardly imagine Jennifer Lawrence getting a nomination next January, but she definitely deserves one for her portrayal of Katniss. As for the rest of the cast, most of the supporting actors of The Hunger Games deliver performances that remain true to the book’s characters. Josh Hutcherson had already been on the scene for 6-7 years as a child actor, so I was already aware that he has talent, but his role as Peeta is what truly convinced me of what he can do. His case is similar to that of Jennifer’s, because he certainly looks the part, and he does well to emphasize that his character is in love with Katniss and would do anything in his power to protect her in The Arena, faithful to the book’s version of the character (oops… spoiler?). This is arguably his most mature role to date, and he nailed it. I can’t say much about Liam Hemsworth’s role as Gale since he literally has only a few minutes of screentime, but even so, he performed well with the time he did have. Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch Abernathy, the drunken District 12 victor from the 50th Hunger Games, who also serves as a mentor for Peeta and Katniss. He delivers his sometimes hilarious lines quite well, and otherwise he is convincing as a man completely disillusioned with The Hunger Games, but I was slightly disappointed with his performance since I wished he could have acted more like a worthless drunk. Stanley Tucci is nigh unrecognizable (or at least I did not recognize him) as Caesar Flickerman, but nonetheless, he’s hysterical in this film as well. Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinkett, Donald Sutherland as President Snow, Lenny Kravitz as Cinna… why, the whole cast is great!
In terms of audio/visual design, The Hunger Games is quite a spectacle. Unfortunately though, the film’s critical flaw involves the visuals: the cinematography. Despite successfully adding large amounts of realism to a science fiction story that was written to be realistic, the “shaky cam” Mockumentary style used in The Hunger Games comes off as very agitating at times. I can understand that this technique was used in order to tone down the violence and gore (thus warranting a PG-13 rating), but I just found it disappointing to see a couple of the most exciting action sequences from The Arena made nearly impossible to watch without getting a slight headache. Still, the film is nonetheless intense fun and suitably realistic with its use of shaky cam (in the vein of Saving Private Ryan, particularly in the D-Day scene). If you were looking to be entertained by this film, you will not be disappointed. The visual effects certainly aren’t incredible, but I have to admit, the CGI shots of the Capitol look very impressive. What really shines here visually (no pun intended) is the art direction, for much of how the world of Panem was described in the book seemed to have given Gary Ross an accurate vision of Collins’ universe. Not to mention, the varying environments are bleak yet beautiful, also remaining faithful to the novel. James Newton Howard’s musical score is also great, punctuating many of the film’s most powerful moments with just the right amount of emotion that only an epic score can provide. However, the music is subtle enough to the point that Howard’s score does not give the film a romanticized feel unlike more traditional action films. In this case, this suits The Hunger Games since the lack of music in the film’s more intense or serious scenes adds to the ever-present realism.
If you haven’t read any of the books, chances are you will probably just like this film, for comparisons to The Hunger Games can easily be made to Battle Royale, Lord of the Flies and Gladiator for someone not familiar with the novels. For any viewer of this film, the cinematography and the slightly rushed feel of the story (which may only annoy fans of the book) are rather annoying and may lead to minor disappointment in this film. Nonetheless, The Hunger Games is easily the best book adaptation I’ve seen in months. Exactly like its novel counterpart, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. The writing is terrific, the film is entertaining throughout, and the dull but gorgeous world of Panem is surprisingly accurate to how it was described in the book. Oh, and did I mention the acting? Yeah, the cast in this film is absolutely outstanding. Easily one of the year’s best films thus far, The Hunger Games is smart, summer entertainment in the not-as-exciting March, so why not grab some friends, buy a bag of popcorn and enjoy this great film at the multiplex? After all, as a moviegoer, the odds will most certainly be in your favor if you do.
Jason Bakker, Editor-in-Chief, Metal Arcade
I agree with Zach for the most part. The Hunger Games mostly lives up to its hype, although I felt it had a rather large amount of shortcomings. For one thing, the movie is entirely too long, and drags in a lot of scenes leading up to what everyone paid to see- the arena games. As Zach mentioned, the shaky-cam effect employed in the action scenes is quite nauseating and makes most of the fight scenes completely unintelligible. As Zach mentioned, this may have been to tone down the violence, but in my opinion, this movie should have just gone for the R rating. However, that of course would have limited the audience, and so we are given a watered-down version of what could have been some truly gripping action. For instance, Gladiator was rated R and wasn’t too gory, but at least had satisfying conclusions to its fight scenes and didn’t make the viewer wonder what the hell was going on. As a result, I felt far more invested in the action sequences of that film than in The Hunger Games. There were also a few things that were entirely glossed over in the movie. How are they able to control the weather and add weird CGI monster dogs into the arena through a computer? That made me very confused in the final sequence and took me emotionally out of the film. Not to mention, the monsters looked terrible, and were by far the worst use of CGI in the film. It may sound like I am entirely condemning the film, but Jennifer Lawrence did do a great job investing me in her character, and I believed in her performance for the entirety of the movie. Her romance with Peeta seemed a bit half-baked and shoehorned in, and I’m not sure if the other guy back home (Liam Hemsworth) was supposed to be part of some love triangle, but he got about 3 minutes of screen time so his character had almost no development. I also found it odd that they mentioned how many times his name was entered for the drawing, and yet he was not picked, although Katniss’ sister was only in the drawing once and she was picked. It all seemed a little forced and just thrown together to add drama, like WWE-style storytelling. Overall, I was left that the film could have been a lot shorter, with a lot more (visible) action.
Jason’s Rating – 3.5/5