A film focusing on 24 kids pitted against each other in a death match getting this much attention is shocking, and its subject matter is rarely seen in mainstream cinema. To see a film like “The Hunger Games” getting so much buzz is surprising. Not only is it an an enormous box office success, but its fan base is huge. Usually movies that garner this much excitement are family- friendly pictures that anyone can go and enjoy.
“The Hunger Games” is almost the complete opposite of that. From the viewpoint of a person who hasn’t read the book it’s one thing seeing these characters, but for actual fans of the text, chances are that reading it and seeing it on the big screen are two completely different experiences, and viewing it with an audience is most likely a treat in itself.
“The Hunger Games” follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone,” 2010), a teenager who volunteers in place of her younger sister after she is chosen to participate in the Hunger Games, a battle to the death between 24 teenagers from 12 districts in the nation of Panem.
Along with 22 other contestants, Katniss is joined Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, “The Kids Are All Right,” 2010), a boy from her same district. The two set off for the Capitol where they receive training in preparation for the game as well as advice from many involved with the event.
When the game begins there will be gasps. Director Gary Ross (“Pleasantville,” 1998), doesn’t shy away from killing off these kids on screen. Though the violence is not glorified in any way, it’s impressive to see a Hollywood film really go for it.
Much has been made about “The Hunger Games” and its similarities to the 2000 Japanese cult classic “Battle Royale” and the book it was based on, published in 1999. The similarities in plot alone are jarring at first glance, however, there are enough differences that each can be enjoyable on their own merits.
Both films deal with the sci-fi elements that they have nicely and each presents the audience with scenarios that are extremely frightening. While “Battle Royale” is just a relentless film right from the start, “The Hunger Games” takes its time in developing its characters, while leaving all of the action to the last half of the movie.
No matter what the similarities to other films may be, “The Hunger Games” does have that built-in audience that the book established. If it didn’t have that group of fans foaming at the mouth to see it from the day it was announced, chances are that its reception based on its premise alone could have been negative.
Surprisingly, the best part of the film isn’t the battle itself but the lead up to it. This occurs when all of the tributes arrive on the Capitol for the first time. It’s only in this part of the film where Ross flaunts the film’s sci-fi characteristics, and they are a joy to see.
Overall the cast is is solid. The film is filled with fine young actors and proven up-and-comers, including Oscar nominee Lawrence, leading the movie. Being in almost every scene in the film, she does a nice job of holding the entire picture together.
However, the supporting cast often overshadows the two main characters in the movie, Katniss and Peeta. There are a couple of scene-stealing characters in the movie. These include the lovely Elizabeth Banks (“Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” 2008), who plays Effie Trinket, an escort for the two tributes from District 12. She gets in a couple of great one-liners.
Woody Harrelson also lends his talents as a mentor to the two, though primarily to Katniss. His character has a nice arc that is surprising to see. This is especially true based on the first couple of scenes that he’s in, which made it seem like he would be playing a drunk the entire time.
Along with those two, Stanley Tucci is amazing as Caesar Flickerman, the television personality and host of all things Hunger Games. His blue hair is the first thing you’ll notice but his mannerisms are one of the best things in the movie.
The cinematography by Tom Stern is admirable, though surprisingly many of the scenes that take place on the Capitol overshadow those that are outdoors. Included in this is a brilliant shot of Katniss waiting to go and be interviewed by Caesar, standing in front of hundreds of lights, right behind the curtain dividing her between thousands of people.
Some of that beautiful cinematography is quashed by the shaky cam that makes its way into many of the movie’s action scenes, including the start of the game itself, one of the most important parts of the film.
The one jarring negative that “The Hunger Games” possess is the plot twists it throws in near the end of the movie. They all take place during the game and are meant to spice things up, but they end up feeling like a cop out.
On top of that, rather than letting the game actually take place, the people behind it often interfere, throwing in obstacles for the tributes that just seem lazy. It would have been better served to just allow the action to take place between the 24 contestants.
What ultimately ends up hurting “The Hunger Games” is not a lack of excitement or action, but rather its predictability. With a film that deals with this kind of subject matter it seems like screenwriters Gary Ross and Billy Ray, along with Suzanne Collins, who both wrote the book and helped co-write the film, could have taken a chance and really done something that no one would have expected.
“The Hunger Games” isn’t a normal action/drama/sci-fi picture. Rather than conform to boring storytelling techniques, the film switches things up a bit and in turn makes it much more enjoyable to watch.
What deserves recognition is “The Hunger Games” ability to challenge its audience. While mainstream movies rarely do it, having everyone behind this film push the audience is a breath of fresh air. Though fans of character development will enjoy it, surprisingly its action-orientated final half is overshadowed by its wonderful first half. Though it can be predictable, its stellar cast and intriguing story make up for most of the shortcomings that fall behind the scenes.
“The Hunger Games” is rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens. The film runs 142 minutes.