The Hunger Games Movie Review
When I first heard of The Hunger Games, I thought it sounded like an interesting, if dark, idea for a youth fiction story. Ever since the HARRY POTTER series broke down the idea that ‘youth fiction is for kids’, there have been a growing number of stories that have transcended age and introduced a whole new populations to science fiction and fantasy. I’m glad this change has been accepted, because I think some of the best books I’ve ever read have been largely intended for youth. THE HUNGER GAMES is the latest example of a great story that transcends age.
Like many new works, THE HUNGER GAMES borrows (and improves) on stories of the past. In a possible near future our society has been changed by revolution. There are now 12 districts (states) of commoners and ‘the capital’ which houses the social elite and the head of government. The Hunger Games is a contest – each year every district offers up 1 young man and woman (12-18 years old) to compete to the death in a ‘last man standing’ battle… but the Hunger Games is much more than a game show. It is how the capital keeps the districts in check – a constant reminder of their helplessness against the oppressive regime that runs their society.
Our story follows young Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence of X-MEN: FIRST CLASS) from District 12. She volunteers as tribute to keep her young sister, Prim, from having to compete in the games when her name is drawn. As she is whisked away to the capital to prepare with her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), we too embark on a journey into this immersive and strange world where the tributes are graded like pieces of meat. While the Hunger Games are a terrifying ordeal for most commoners, the capital folk find them greatly entertaining and love to bet the odds for their favorite tributes. The whole affair has become a spectacle you can’t help but enjoy even while you realize that it is also a prescient comment about our current-day society and where we could be headed.
The tributes are assigned a coach from their district who works with them during the two weeks they have to prepare before the games. The goal through training is to keep them alive as long as possible – to ensure that they are able to compete. For Katniss this means keeping an emotional distance to everyone – and she quickly garners favor for her hunting skills and her determination. Peeta, on the other hand, appears to be a weaker player so he has to focus on other traits (his people skills and his ability to paint, specifically, come in handy). Once the children are done training, the vast majority of the film is spent within the actual match – Katniss trying to play by herself while Peeta forges alliances – watching our heroes try to stay alive.
One of the concerns with all book-to-movie adaptations is that they will not be able to cover all of the ground from the book. And for some folks that will always be a concern, regardless of how brilliantly the story is put together. But for my part, I believe THE HUNGER GAMES hits all the right notes without spending time on anything ancillary. From the opening credits to the Reaping (the lottery where Tributes are selected), training to the actual contest, the movie deftly flows between acts and spends just enough time on each subject to cover all of the ground that we need. Aiding in this process is the addition of some new scenes of Game Master Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) as he directs the action from the control room and of Caesar Flickerman (the wonderful Stanley Tucci) who provides commentary and narration to some of the ‘Games action.
The only problem I have with this movie from a filmmaking perspective is the use of handheld cameras. Technical choices (shaking the camera, use of slow motion, etc) should be used ONLY to enhance the feelings of the audience… feelings that come from the story and the acting. When you try to use technical tricks to make the audience feel things it 1) pulls us out of the story and 2) makes the feeling disingenuous. During the contest and during the Reaping it made sense to use a handheld camera to reinforce the confusion and hysteria of those moments. When you use it during scenes where you are introducing characters and setting up story it just makes us feel betrayed.
Where the movie is nearly flawless is the acting category. The 3 leads (Lawrence, Hutcherson, and Hemsworth) all seem perfectly capable of helming their own franchise. The supporting cast is equally strong, pairing solid performances (Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks as Haymitch and Effie Trinket, respectively) with stellar ones like Tucci’s Flickerman or Donald Sutherland’s President Snow. Seeing Snow cutting roses, you can almost smell the decay that must surround him. THE HUNGER GAMES earns its PG-13 by keeping just enough violence to get the point across without being gratuitous. I wouldn’t suggest it for viewers younger than that unless you are sure that they can handle the action. Otherwise, regardless of your age, give this movie (and the book on which it is based) a chance and you will not be disappointed. I can’t wait for the sequel to hit theaters.