I saw The Hunger Games at a midnight showing so I could add my two cents to the discussion. The best and worst thing I can say about this movie is that it is very true to the book.
Here’s a preview:
Released March 23, 2012
Written by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray (based on the book by Suzanne Collins)
Directed by Gary Ross
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, and Willow Shields
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If you don’t know the story of The Hunger Games, you must be living under a rock in northern Yukon. But I will sum up.
Our modern world is gone, destroyed, and is now a nation called Panem. Panem has 12 districts, each of which does a certain type of work in support of Panem. Many years ago, there were 13 districts, but they revolted and lost, with District 13 being destroyed. As penance for their revolt, every year a boy and a girl are randomly selected from each district in order to be placed in an arena of some kind to battle it out to the death. The winner is showered with fame and fortune as a sign of the generosity of Panem, but the losers, well.. are dead.
Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is a teen, probably 16 or 17, who is the protector of her family now that her father is dead. Her mother is mostly useless and her sister, Prim (Shields), is very little and quite delicate. Katniss is best friends with a tall, dark fellow named Gale (Hemsworth), with whom she hunts and wanders the forest. She is very good with the bow. Each year after a certain age, every child’s name is put in the pile to be selected from, and if your name isn’t selected, it stays. So older kids have a much higher chance of being chosen. This is Prim’s first year of being eligible for the selection, called the Reaping.
Against all odds, Prim is chosen, but Katniss volunteers to go in her place. The boy selected is Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), the son of a baking family. The story that unfolds reveals the hedonism in Panem’s Capitol, shows the brutality of the Hunger Games, and puts Katniss square in the middle of an uprising and a love triangle. Also, the Hunger Games are broadcast and endlessly discussed by everyone.
Katniss has to win so she can return home to her family. Peeta just wants to die his own death and show he’s not a pawn in the Capitol’s hands. Gale wants Katniss. The Capitol wants an obedient populace.
So we follow Katniss’ adventures in the Hunger Games, where her mettle is tested and her wits are put to task. The movie is based on a popular YA series, can you guess the ending?
The movie of The Hunger Games is just as good as the book, but no better. Which is a shame. What you have here, folks, is a girl who shows bravery as a reaction to tough situations. Katniss steps up to save Primrose, which is a proactive reaction and is nearly the only time that she determines the direction of the story. Otherwise, this is a very passive character.
She also doesn’t have flaws that are highlighted and which she needs to overcome. She’s prideful and aloof, but is able to subsume that in the interest of putting on a good show and hopefully winning the Games. She doesn’t actually stop being aloof and a little cold.
You would think that Katniss would have to kill someone in order to progress and hopefully win in the games. The first time she’s in a life-threatening situation, when she could very easily die, what happens? Does she dig deep, draw on ingenuity and determination, overcome personal issues? Nope. Somebody else saves her– gives her an out.
That happens again a little later. Then again.
Oh, and then another time too.
Does Katniss ever have to actually kill someone in cold blood in order to reach her goal of getting home to her family? That would certainly add some major weight and stakes to her struggle and character. But no, she doesn’t. She kills people, but it’s always in moments of clear self-defense or in a very hands-off way.
This bothers me. I want to see this character really put her soul on the line for her values. I want to see her decide that the Hunger Games are rotten but she has to play the games in order to see the whole thing through.
But all of this is a critique of the book and movie, is really just a major flaw of the entire series.
Don’t get me wrong. The books are compelling and enjoyable. And the movie is very well done, with excellent actors doing what they can with characters who are not allowed to have the time to develop and become much more than caricature and perplexing action. Why is Cinna so sympathetic? Sure, we find out more about him later, and anyone who’s read the entire series knows, but the first book, and thus the first movie, are a single thing and need to stand firmly on their own.
My main critique of the film is that it loses some emotional punch by not taking a little more time in some critical scenes where Katniss is having some emotional reaction to her situation. The scene where she shoots the apple? Excellent. More of that, please.
Also, there’s a lot of shaky camera work, obviously deliberate. This is a bad choice. We need to be in Katniss’ head and heart, and the shaky camera makes that very hard. There’s a lot of silence when seriously dramatic scenes are going on, such as with what happens to Rue. This is a mistake. Let us see, hear, and feel it with Katniss. There needs to be a strong emotional core so that the audience doesn’t laugh when Peeta and Katniss have romantic scenes, which are, for Katniss’ part, all for show. The movie didn’t have that emotional core, so it’s a little unsatisfying.
All of that aside, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson hit it out of the park. They caught the spirit of these two characters very well, especially Hutcherson. Donald Sutherland did okay as President Snow, but he wasn’t nearly menacing enough. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch was fine, but we don’t see why he transforms; we don’t understand what made him stop drinking, and he doesn’t really look right.
I liked the movie. I didn’t love it, and I really wanted to love it. You will like it too. You might even love it. It’ll be an evening well spent for you.
Content warnings: plenty of violence, mostly in flashingly irritating images, not much blood. Some drinking, no real profanity.
Writing: 3.5 Acting: 4.5 Overall: 4
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