moviebuff801: The Hunger Games Review

Posted: August 18, 2012 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews

With the Harry Potter series officially over, and the Twilight Saga finally coming to its close (thank God for that), there’s a void to be filled by the new “it” series.  The Hunger Games is that series being positioned as such, and the first question is, is it worthy of such a title?  Based on this film adaptation of the first novel in the trilogy by Suzanne Collins, I can say with a bit of relief that it is.  Now, even though I have read the books, there won’t be any comparing the two.  I’m just reviewing the film, which, as it stands, is actually very good.  All I will say in that respect is that the film is, overall, very faithful.  I’m just thankful to see a teen series completely devoid of comatose leading ladies, sparkling vampires or shirtless werewolves.

The Hunger Games is yet another one of those future-set yarns with dystopian sensibilities.  What was once North America is now a country called Panem, which is divided into twelve Districts.  The lower the District, the higher the poverty.  As a form of punishment for a failed uprising many years ago, the mighty Capitol of Panem holds an annual competition every year known as The Hunger Games.  For the Games, each District offers up one boy and girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen, Tributes, to compete in them – literally, a fight to the death.  The lone survivor is then crowned the “winner.”  We learn all this through our main heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a sixteen year-old who volunteers herself as a Tribute after the name of her twelve year-old sister is drawn.  As if that weren’t enough, Katniss’s co-Tribute is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), with whom Katniss shares a … shall we say complicated past.

Once arriving in the lavish Capitol, Katniss and Peeta find themselves under the guidance of previous Game winner Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), as well as dealing with the political maneuvering of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and snaky charm of talk show host Ceasar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci).  You just can’t make these names up.  But the most daunting of Katniss and Peeta’s problems are of course The Hunger Games and the question of who will survive the brutal bloodbath of a sport.

This film really did surprise me by how good it was.  Upon hearing that it was based on a Young Adult series, I figured it’d be more or less along the lines of the final few Harry Potter movies in terms of maturity, but this story is as much for adults as it is teenagers.   And I think that’s one of the reasons why this movie works as well as it does.  The filmmakers treat the target audience with a good level of intelligence, assuming they are capable of handling the very dark subject matter.  As a result, the film winds up being very mature and thought-provoking, but the thing I like most about it is how it taps into the psyches of teenagers themselves.  At the ages most of these characters in this film are, violence is something – especially boys – can be into.  The film does a good job of taking that aspect of that kind of personality and putting a dark spin on it.

I also like the fact that director Gary Ross keeps the emotion prevalent, rather than turning this into a pure action movie.  The violence, which is incredibly brutal, carries more weight because these are actual people fighting for their lives.  One death especially shows just how depraved this society is.  Forget the PG-13 rating; this is intense stuff.

Plus, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are solid actors to build this movie around for one simple reason: they can act.  Lawrence, who’s been nominated for an Oscar before this, has this natural gravitas about her.  She can communicate just the right amount of emotion with just the right amount of words, and throughout the film, she remains a refreshingly human prescence amongst bloodthirsty adolescents and adults.  Plus, the tactic she uses at first to try to win is pretty damn smart.  Josh Hutcherson also proves that a leading man needs more than good looks to get a free pass from audiences.  The relationship between the two of them feels tender, heartfelt and is one that’s easy to get behind.  Around them, seasoned actors like Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci (all of them, and others, sporting garishly and entertainingly overdone fashion outfits) provide solid supporting work.  I especially liked Harrelson’s character, who was probably the only source of any hope and humor, as well as Tucci’s attention whore of a talk show charmer who sports a blue hairdo that makes him look like an arctic Conan O’ Brien.

If the film has any flaws, it’s that there are a few elements of the story that are just glossed over.  Having read the book since seeing the movie, the biggest deletion is a clearer sense of the relationship between Katniss and Peeta pre-Hunger Games.  Any non-book reader will most likely not fully understand this, and it may leave them feeling underwhelmed, as it did me when I first saw the film without having finished the book.  Also, given the nature of The Games, I expected more conversations between Katniss and Peeta not just about the basic unjustness of it all, but more about what it all means to survive and to live with all that blood on your hands.  And then there’s the issue of director Gary Ross’s overreliance on the shaky camera.  I get that he’s going for gritty realism, but for one thing, we should see the action more clearly and two, shaky cam is just annoying in scenes where people are just either sitting around or walking somewhere.  This is Hunger Games, not Cloverfield.

But overall, The Hunger Games is worthy of all the hype.  It takes its material and audience seriously, has strong acting and is an action film with a meaning.  To coin a phrase from it, the odds are ever in its favor.

***1/2 /****

Comments
  1. Tysoncarter says:

    Nice to see a positive review. Not heard much love for it on other sites, and even my wife and her friends found it dull and they loved the books. Your words are more convincing though (as they were drunk!). Nice write up buddy

  2. moviebuff801 says:

    Really? That’s curious, because I’ve heard plenty of positive comments about the film on some of the sites I frequent. Thanks for the compliment!

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