Part One of The Hunger Games Trilogy...
Suzanne Collins' novel The Hunger Games has been garnering a significant amount of fame with teenagers everywhere, and has a devoted legion of fans who have already seen this film at one of its notorious midnight showings. I have never read the novel, but knew much about it going in. Going out, I might've known less. If that's possible.
The film is simple, moderately effective entertainment, but slow, a tad incompetent, and a bit overblown in some areas. The film centers around the nation of Panem, which has replaced North America. It is a totalitarian nation, with its government inflicting harsh punishments and dictatorship this way and that. Every year, they hold an event called "The Hunger Games," where two people, a male and a female from each of the twelve districts of Panem, battle to the death until one remains. It is done to further assure the Capitol has any and all authority, and that they can do what they want, when they want. No question.
The girl chosen from District 12 is Prim Everdeen (Shields), younger sister of sixteen year old Katniss (Lawrence) who volunteers to take her place. The boy chosen from the district is Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), who has had a life-long crush on Katniss. Both are taken from the district to train relentlessly for the games, which involve mainly practicing their archery skills. By far the most entertaining character in the whole film is Haymitch, portrayed wonderfully by Woody Harrelson, the only living victor from District 12. He mentors both Katniss and Peeta as they enter the most grueling task of their life.
Let's start with the landscapes and the cinematography. When we see them, they are wonderful. Breathtaking and consuming. But director Gary Ross seems to enjoy seeing them through a shaky, indistinct position. It may not be his own fault, just his lack of credible experience. A good portion of the film and its battle scenes are captured with a shaky camera, possibly to add to the idea that the action is so fast-paced and non-linear the camera can't keep up. Even during some of the regular scenes the camera remains this way. It would've been nice if The Hunger Games could capture its battle scenes in a calm, collective, and controlled manner, but instead, it favors the route of incoherency and disjointedness.
From a stylistic approach, the film is rather nice to look at. We do get well-deserved backstory on how the country operates and functions, but we don't learn enough about our leads. Also, these characters are being grossly toyed with in this nation. Does anyone try to rebel or overthrow the government? Or are they so oblivious to the idea of dictatorship and develop a strong contentment for this world. It seems illogical, when you think about it.
The Hunger Games has its areas of strength. For one, its female leader is no priss. It's so rare to see women take charge in sci-fi adventure films, especially ones that follow this sort of formula. Jennifer Lawrence is strong and beyond capable as the role of a strong woman, victim to unfair circumstances, and manipulated by an unfair society. It's nice to see that the series looks at her as fearless and fit rather than a whiny, uninspired female caricature. Hutcherson, too, is very good and the two work together nicely when they can.
But this is pretty standard in the field of adventures, in areas excluding its plot and acting. It lacks any sort of commentary on totalitarian societies, and doesn't seem to break new ground with the material it has. I sat debating on why the series has reached such a rare level of popularity with the masses. Is this the groundbreaking, extra-special, page-gripping novel that everyone is reading? The book had to be more than predominant scenes of archery and hectic instances of action. There had to be more depth and attraction to a novel so popular. What we are left with is somewhat sufficient, but droning for a two and a half hour film, including tacked on, roughly seventy minutes of buildup to the games themselves. The Hunger Games isn't bad, but it's redundant and winded, with much of the end being rather quiet and seemingly void of progression. Audiences are likely to enjoy it, but I'm sure fan reception will be all over the place. The film just seems too basic and limp, considering the book was a smashing success.
Review by Steve Pulaski, Special to Influx MagazineShare: