BRIEFLY: Though The Hunger Games is well-acted and decently paced, there is simply not enough character development to justify the film which is itself reaching for a sort of young adult gravitas. We come to find in the end that, much like the reality television of today, the characters are disposable with motivations that conveniently yield to the plot rather than reflect the person. Further the dodgy camera work that schizophrenically pulls in and out of focus further undermines any sense of storytelling that director Gary Ross is reaching for. As a non-fan of the series(I haven’t read the books), the film did nothing to excite me for a sequel, but I’m sure that matters little as hardcore fans will certainly flock to the multiplex for this installment and several yet to come.
DETAILED REVIEW: It’s no surprise that The Hunger Games has been adapted for the screen. With Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Twilight carving out their own blockbuster film franchises it was only a matter of time until someone picked up the dystopian novel. The source material has all the makings of an epic: romance, action, death, sacrifice, and did I mention death? The Hunger Games is brimming death, but in the end, as each demise stacks up one after the other, the impact of such violence is lost and dismissed. Maybe this is a societal issue rather than a story issue, but if our society can care whether Snooki is pregnant or not, we should (the key word here being should) hold the capacity to care for death (albeit fictitious) of characters on screen. Couple that with the fact that the deaths are happening to teenagers and in some cases mere children, and I found myself reasoning that the film lacks the story elements necessary to help an audience connect and engage, but more importantly resonate with any character in the film.
Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the plot of The Hunger Games probably in passing, either from your mother, the cleaning lady Consuela, or your teenage niece. My niece in fact summarized it best, “It’s like in the future and there’s like these 12 districts who send two teenagers into a fight for the death, but only one makes it out.” Indeed, that’s about all you really need to know. Additionally, you probably should know that there is a romance (actually several romances), a few familial issues, and a global government hell-bent on utter control—sounds a lot like the Clinton administration doesn’t it?
In the midst of the story there is our main protagonist, Katniss and her fellow “tribute” from her barren home, District 12. The two have a history, but it’s unclear exactly what that history is until about two hours into the movie. The lack of characterization here really makes their relationship lack any resonance—romantically or otherwise.
The lone exception to sloppy characterization however, is Katniss played by Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence. As the protagonist, Lawrence plays a powerful, independent, and cunning female. Indeed, the biggest achievement the film provides is its very positive representation of females. Katniss is strong without succumbing to clichés yet also maintains a tender and emotional core that feels authentic rather than pigeon-holed into the so called norms of femininity.
On the other hand Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), slumps around with hunched shoulders and a chip on his shoulder that is more annoying than appealing. I found myself wondering why Katniss would ever wanna make babies with him? I think that for some reason we are supposed to connect with Peeta maybe even sympathize with him, however we can’t because we truly never care about him between he is either pouting or smirking with angst. He is jealous of the far stronger Katniss, something we see in his mannerisms, yet we get bludgeoned with dialogue that restates the character’s non-verbal thesis: “Katniss is better than me.”
Though the characterization is shoddy, the acting is actually very sound. Lawrence is perfectly cast as Katniss. Lenny Kravitz is spot on as the fashion designer turned motivator, Cinna. Woody Harrelson is similarly great as the has-been hunger games trainer Haymitch. Even Stanley Tucci plays an effective role as the announcer/talk show host with Stephen Colbert’s candor and a Nicki Minaj hairstyle. If there’s one reason to see The Hunger Games, it is indeed the acting.
The biggest complaint is the camera work which is dodgy at best. At times it’s almost like watching one of those “found footage” films like Blair Witch or Cloverfield. But here, it’s far worse as the camera, for reasons unknown to this critic, moves in and out of focus faster than a Tebow Jets jersey at a Manhattan Footlocker. It’s an unnecessary move that proves futile in doing anything other than make it really hard for the audience to understand what’s going on.
Though it sounds like I really disliked The Hunger Games, I must admit that I was overall entertained. It’s a far better effort than Twilight, which it is somehow drawing comparisons to. I did find it at times very exciting, but those were only brief. The social commentary here screams the 21st century where we love reality television and have catapulted mere “nobody’s” into society’s “somebody’s” overnight—look no further than Teen Mom on MTV for further evidence! The film is most certainly trying to tap into that vein and for the most part it succeeds and does for once resonate, at least on the social commentary level.
In the end, the film concludes with a dues ex machina that removes any tension the film was attempting to build. It’s far too convenient (regardless of what happened in the books). I found myself going, “Okay, so what? What was all the hype about?” That’s most certainly never a reaction a Hollywood studio attempting to build a franchise would hope for. Though as previously mentioned, it matters little because the fans have spoken with their wallets and ticket sales are sky high (though still not quite to Dark Knight levels—just sayin). I’ll probably see the sequel, yet I can’t say I want to. Though if anything, seeing Lawrence command the film the way she did may be all the reason I need. I do love that lady.