Originally, I didn’t want to write a review for this movie. I, like every other literate person in this country, read and became intensely involved with the book series. Suzanne Collins’ imaginative and somewhat unsettling way of showcasing the perversion of our society’s obsession with reality television and willingness to cheer the most debase behavior is astounding. I’m not implying that the book series solely comments on modern American society’s general lack of human decency, just that it’s there. There are also other not-so-hidden commentaries on the fear of a totalitarian/dictatorial government and extreme wealth gaps. Pretty heavy stuff for a “Young Adult” category. With my fierce love of the books, I felt that any opining I did on the movie would be biased.
However, I just read a series of reviews (few and far between among the overall praise) that were extremely shallow and completely missed the point of the plot and that makes me angry. I want to cancel out those idiots with another positive review that acknowledges the underlying layers and not just “another teenage love triangle”, however devoid this review may be of actual “film critique”.
For those who have been able to avoid the hype, “The Hunger Games” is the first in a 3-part series written by Suzanne Collins and adapted for the screen by writer/director Gary Ross (in smart collaboration with Collins). The movie is set in a futuristic dystopian North America called Panem which is divided into 12 districts and an ornate, all-powerful “Capitol”. Each district must compete in the annual Hunger Games. Two “tributes” from each district, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18 are drawn by lottery and forced to compete in a televised battle royale, of which there is only one survivor. This annual “reaping” serves as a reminder that the Capitol is in control and an uprising of the districts will not be tolerated. It is also the main source of entertainment for the citizens of the “Capitol”, who view the tributes (and more importantly, the victors) as reality television celebrities.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are the chosen ones for District 12 after Katniss volunteers in place of her younger sister, Prim. The movie follows their journey through the 74th Annual Hunger Games, from stylists to stabbing and back again. With a cast of supporting characters including Woody Harrelson as the ever-wasted Haymitch, a past victor from 12 who serves as reluctant mentor to the tributes and Elizabeth Banks as the delightfully clueless and aptly named publicist, Effie Trinket, there is no lull in this 2.5 hour movie. Lawrence is utterly believable as the arrow-wielding huntress from the slums but reads a bit more emotionally mature than Katniss’ printed counterpart. With a PG-13 rating, the movie relied on creative camera work to skirt the dirty realism issue of children murdering children that the books so graphically describe. The shock value is there, but the camera never lingers on a death scene, showing just enough to convey the sick reality of 24 children hell-bent on ending each other’s lives.
The often mentioned “love triangle” is barely evident in this movie, keeping romance on the back burner. Which I love. There are enough moments to make you wonder (or smirk knowingly if you’ve read the series) but the exhausting back and forth a la Twilight is absent. In fact, this series gets compared to Twilight often because of its “Young Adult” status, but I find it to be a completely different animal (no pun intended, team Jacob). Katniss Everdeen is a strong survivalist who can’t seem to be bothered with cute boys, unlike Bella Swan and her terrible example of a role model. And the question of “Team Peeta” or “Team Gale” is a non-issue (so far). Aside from the characters, Jennifer Lawrence is just exponentially better than Kristen Stewart. It was refreshing to see raw emotion when the story called for it, rather than scene after scene of stoic awkwardness. (I hate you, Kristen Stewart).
The action in “The Hunger Games” never falls short and is punctuated with moments of snark, delicious eye candy and pretty terrific costumes. My only issue is that the amount of suffering the tributes endure is glossed over in the movie vs. the book. But, as a friend of mine mentioned, watching someone slowly starve and dehydrate isn’t exactly blockbuster material if you’re not “Cast Away”. My favorite part of the movie was Stanley Tucci as Ceasar Flickerman, the Master of Ceremonies for the Hunger Games. Tanned, capped (his teeth, that is) and topped with stunning blue hair, Tucci’s Ceasar is almost a parody of overly-primped hosts like Ryan Seacrest, preying on the pain and nerves of young people purely for entertainment.
Overall, with laughter, tears, gasps and startles this movie is a winner.I look forward to the next two and will absolutely be at the midnight showing for each. I love a good crowd mentality.