Hunger Games, The (2012)

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The Hunger GamesStarring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci

Directed by Gary Ross

Distributed by Lionsgate Films

On March 23rd Lionsgate is poised to blow a certain pop culture juggernaut of a franchise about sparkly vampires away with The Hunger Games, the feverishly anticipated feature film adaptation of the first in Suzanne Collins’ teen-book trilogy centered around a strong-willed teenager named Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who must fight to the death against 23 other teens in order to survive.

Set in a post-apocalyptic United States (now called Panem) where the problems of maintaining civil order and keeping the masses entertained by the boob tube all boil down to the same solution: The Hunger Games, a yearly contest where two dozen randomly selected 12- to-18-year-old Tributes are picked during the ‘Reaping’ of all 12 Districts outside of the Capitol.

The Hunger Games starts off quietly enough, but director Gary Ross packs in a gut-wrench moment right off the bat to engage viewers into this cruel world of the film’s heroine when 16-year-old Katniss’ 12-year-old sister, Prim (Willow Shield), is plucked from the unlucky fish bowl for the 74th Games. A shell-shocked Katniss volunteers to take her place, and she’s soon off to the Capitol with one of her flamboyant handlers, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), and her fellow Tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who also happens to harbor a longtime crush on Katniss.

It’s a starkly bold opener that acts as a complete juxtaposition to the world Katniss is about to be thrown into, and Ross makes the transition seamlessly; once arriving in the Capitol, the sometimes socially awkward Katniss must embrace this odd and weirdly colorful world that wants to make a celebrity out of her before watching her die, but as she keeps resisting this new world, she soon realizes that if she wants to survive, she must play along with the lunacy that is The Hunger Games.

The Hunger GamesIn the lead up to its release, The Hunger Games has been compared to Twilight, the Harry Potter franchise and even Battle Royale, which is understandable since it’s human nature to compare something new to something old in order to drive home a point; however, it’s unfair to attach all that baggage so early to the film since it absolutely has its own merits to stand by, and frankly, associating it with something like Twilight is a detriment to the work of the entire cast and crew.

For those of you who may be looking at The Hunger Games as the next huge action series, don’t get ahead of yourself just yet; while the film is thoroughly enjoyable and immensely exciting, that’s not what is driving Ross’ vision here. The story deals with themes of self-sacrifice, mortality and rebellion, making The Hunger Games more thought-provoking than jaw-dropping really. Sure, there are great moments of violence and shock, but that’s not what keeps you glued to your seat at the end of the day- it’s the vision and the story, and for both Ross absolutely nails it here.

Ross approaches his action sequences and the narrative scenes in between with a realistic and grounded approach, making The Hunger Games feel like more of a drama than something super-stylized like The Running Man, which allows audiences to be continually immersed in this bleak future.

Performance-wise everyone in this eclectic hodge-podge of a cast delivers solid performances. The brunt of the heavy lifting on The Hunger Games falls squarely on Lawrence’s shoulders, and simply put, she’s brilliant, and fans of the book series should no doubt be pleased with her performance as Katniss. Hutcherson (who seems to be popping up everywhere these days and for good reason) is an interesting character that, honestly, isn’t all that likable at all. But by the third act Hutcherson gets you to come around to his side, making Peeta one of the more interesting and compelling characters to follow.

The Hunger GamesBut even the youngest actors, the aforementioned Shields and Amandla Stenberg, who plays the lovable Rue, could easily have been the weak links given their relative inexperience in comparison to their co-stars like Banks, Woody Harrelson or Donald Sutherland; but both are terrific. It’s also nice to see Wes Bentley involved since the poor guy hasn’t been given a decent role in almost 12 years now, and Lenny Kravitz (not exactly someone I look forward to in movies) reels in all the flashiness of his own persona and makes Cinna a warm and likable character in a world that is anything but.

And while it was incredibly easy to get swept up in the world of The Hunger Games, that doesn’t mean the film doesn’t suffer from a few problems- first and foremost being visual effects work that still feels unfinished (hopefully for the sequel they can nip that problem straightaway) and an oddly paced last 20 minutes that feels a bit underwhelming and rushed.

There is also a romantic subplot going on within The Hunger Games that felt a little odd to me (as someone who hasn’t read the books, I really have no frame of reference)- we get a sense from early on that Katniss and close confidante Gale (Liam Hemsworth) truly share a special bond, but once Katniss catches wind that Peeta has been harboring a long-standing crush on her, she begins to act wildly against the character established earlier on. At first she’s violent and enraged at him, and despite the fact that she isn’t wholly sure she can trust Peeta during the Games themselves (there’s a spoiler moment I wouldn’t dare reveal for those who haven’t read the books), she suddenly gets all warm and fuzzy for him.

Sure, I get that she’s a teenage girl and that teenage girls never act rationally, but still… there’s a weird sort of awkwardness between Katniss and Peeta in the film’s final act which left me feeling a little cold at the end and almost negated all her character worked so hard for throughout the rest of the film.

But with all that being said, who really cares? It’s like nitpicking at your Christmas presents, and what’s the fun of that? With a compelling story that actually has something to say for itself (a welcome change in the world of blockbuster filmmaking) and an entire cast delivering engaging and star-making performances (in Lawrence’s case) that sell everything perfectly, The Hunger Games looks poised to usher in a brand new hit franchise and deserves all the credit it gets for its confrontational subject matter and dystopian sensibilities, all masterfully helmed by Ross.

While the gorehounds out there might lament over how minimally the blood and violence play out, for teen/young adult audiences films don’t get much darker or more intelligent than The Hunger Games. Don’t let all the Twilight comparisons fool you- THIS is the way to make engaging youth-oriented stories for audiences of all ages (much like Chronicle did just a few weeks back).

4 out of 5

Discuss The Hunger Games in the comments section below!

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  • Tshoffie

    Why watch this when you can watch a real movie in battle Royale

    • Uncle Creepy

      Why not watch them both? They’re apples and oranges.

  • MagusMaleficus

    I guess I tempered my expectations accordingly because I didn’t walk out feeling quite as “meh” about the whole affair as some of you folks. I knew the rating well in advance and knew precisely what to expect from a Hollywood blockbuster: not nearly as harsh a tone or violence as graphic as the book. My only real complaint is the fact that they threw the Katniss/Peeta/Gale stuff out the window and–it seems to me anyway–just said fuck it, Katniss loves Peeta already. I think they could have introduced Rue earlier and had Katniss speak with her about her true feelings so that the audience gets that without the need for voice-over dialogue (like in the original cut of Blade Runner). But c’est la vie.

  • Sirand

    Back from a matinee.

    The big problem with The Hunger Games is that it just didn’t translate very well. The book was flat-out AMAZING. One of those intense reads I knocked out in a couple of sittings…like “Battle Royale meets The Edge meets 1984.”

    The first half of the movie is actually pretty great stuff and it totally nails everything in The Capitol. But once they get to the games, the whole thing deflates. There’s no sense of danger about it at all.

    The book was written entirely in the first-person, so when you lose all Katniss’ inner-monologues, you lose all the drama and characterization. As a result, the Katniss/Peeta stuff didn’t play, the moral choices were gone, and the whole thing seemed to unfold over a weekend rather than a month. And because they had to stick to a PG-13, all the powerful visceral moments fell totally flat.

    This is one of those films that suffers from being too dedicated to the source material. In order for this to have worked, they should’ve pulled a “Kubrick” and re-written the games section so that it played dramatically on film.

    A totally mediocre movie.

  • kiddcapone

    The more I think about the movie since watching it, the worse it’s getting. They build Katniss up so high, with her incredible ranking, the fact she has a legit chance of winning the whole thing, and then the games begin and…

    She climbs a tree and hides with no intention of killing anyone or winning. Everyone dies in a series of PG-13 ways, poison berries, bee stings, etc, and the only time during the whole thing Katniss actually kills someone is when it’s a total reactionary split-second decision.

    Then they throw the unrealistic love story in the flick. First Katniss and Peeta are basically strangers, then he reveals he likes her, then she hates him, then she doesn’t trust him, then she loves him, and finally wants to die with him….ALL IN THE SPAN OF A DAY OR TWO. Come on, knock it off, talk about forcing it…

    If this was a woman writer wanting to write a story about a STRONG female character, then write a story about A STRONG FEMALE CHARACTER. I’m all for it. I get it. I would have loved to see Katniss turn into some bad ass who will stop at nothing to outlast everyone and be reunited with her family, even if it means killing people she’s recently bonded with. But Katniss is not strong. She’s an emotional basketcase. Somehow her new brief unexpected love has blinded her from the true task of winning the game and going home. That is weakness.

    This shit could be put on the Fox Family channel with zero cuts. I think the real reason it’s called the Hunger Games is because a majority of those who watching it are left starving for more meat. I hope they add in some substance for the next two films…

  • Sirand

    Having just finished the book – which was a great read – I’m curious if this will have half the impact without the first-person narrative.

  • Katsumi

    First I want to say you really should give the books a read they are good and the movie leads up to that pretty well…

    As for the love story sub-plot, its much more evident in the books as Katniss goes through some things they didn’t put in the movie where she nerarates whats going on in her head about both Gale and Peeta.

    As for the ending they screwed it up royally and ended it with the way book two opens how they are going to make that work I have no idea they also leave out several gifts Katniss recives some of them having a lot of importance

    Othen then that I think this movie was done great and is the best adaptation of a book to film in a long time, way better then a lot of the film based movies I’ve seen…

  • kiddcapone

    I don’t know…it’s not a bad movie (or good), but it has all the exact reasons why I HATE 99% of PG-13 movies. It starts off great and then flatlines due to horrible pacing issues. It takes WAY too long getting to the games. Then when they finally start, half of the participants die in the 1st minute with little fanfare or build-up. What’s even worse is you basically have no fucking idea who any of them are since zero time was used getting to know anyone but the 2 main characters.

    None of the characters are written in a believable fashion. None. Their motivations and actions make no sense what-so-ever. I didn’t believe the bad guys formed a gang, I didn’t believe the forced love story, I didn’t believe the actions of the people controlling the game. None of it. At no time did I ever believe the lead girl was in danger. She never had to make any difficult decisions at all. She killed just one person and it was a reflex action. This is clearly the work of some emotional woman teen writer. She had a message to tell but absolutely no idea how to create a realistic way of writing it. Pure estrogen-enduced cheese.

    If this is a trilogy, I’m bowing out after the first one. Just having good acting and a decent (yet unoriginal) theme is not enough to reign in my attention, or money, again.

    The Hunger Games – 1.5/5.

  • nonserviam03

    I felt really underwhelmed by this movie at the end of the day. It wasn’t bad, and it’s CERTAINLY a hell of a lot better than Twilight, but it just made wish I were watching Battle Royale instead. The main character was never really challenged in the movie (as far as morals) since she not ONCE had to kill someone who wasn’t pretty blatantly portrayed as a villain, which to me seems like a hell of a missed opportunity. The whole “they can BOTH leave” thing felt like a hell of a cop out.

    I also felt like it took WAY too long to get to the Games part of the movie, since the stuff about the sponsors didn’t REALLY amount to a whole lot.