The Hunger Games is the latest young adult series to get the cinematic treatment – it’s also made a bucket of cash that puts the Twilight franchise to shame. It’s also received a good welcoming from critics and at the same time arroused controversy over plagiarism. But the question is whether the hype is justified – is the film any good or is it just mindless entertainment made to take money from 16 year olds?
The Hunger Games is an annual event where a boy and girl from each of the 12 districts of Panem are selected to compete in a battle to the death tournament to symbolise the quashing of the uprising that the capitol faced. It’s pretty grim but when you town is kept within the iron grip of the government, well options are limited. Katniss Everdeen is the primary antagonist and it comes as no surprise when she volunteers as a representive for the games when her sister, despite all odds, is selected. Together with her male counterpart Peeta, they travel to the capitol for the event but before the throat cutting can commence, participants must shmooze potential sponsors and train amongst the competition (which is fierce). Transported to a jungle arena, the winning tribute will be showered with riches and sent back home but there’s more to the battlefield than bashing your enemies head in with a rock – survival is the name of the game if you plan on walking out with your life.
The games themselves only take place about half way through the film – which stands at almost two and a half hours long – but the pacing is brisk enough to keep us involved with the characters at all time. It’s easy to see that a lot of content had to be packed into the running time and thankfully none of it seems irrelevant, it always serves to build up the characters and the background of the film which is extensive given that it’s a three part journey. Gary Ross is the man in the directors seat and given his lengthy investment in the film’s preproduction, it’s easy to see that a lot of time was invested to build a believable world and a story that moves at a good pace.
The Hunger Games has a grim atmosphere but it never quite feels threatening or dangerous – whether it’s within the games themselves or the populations within the districts, there just doesn’t appear to be any real tension within the populace despite punishment being a very real possibility. I never really felt that “whose gonna die next and how” question on my tongue because it all seemed a little inconsequential and predictable. Despite this, it’s still immensely fun to watch and it’s a bit smarter than most young adult fair shrowded in politics that sadly wasn’t quite explored as much as I would have wanted.
The acting sold the film and Jennifer Lawrence delivers a home run, stealing whatever scene she happens to be in, thankfully she’s in most of them and that’s definitely a good thing. What I like most about Lawrence’s character was how much I enjoyed rooting for her, she starts off capable with the bow and seems like a clear winner but that isn’t the case and she finds herself outgunned but not outwitted. Overall the performances aren’t hammed up and in fact they were quite subtle if at times a little too subdued. The characters themselves traded in what I expected to be cliched archetypes and for relatable, genuine, young adults that weren’t competing for attention.
The Hunger Games is a very thematic movie – it embraces the fact that the book is about rebelious youth and class distinction. The unfortunate part of the execution is that the themes get shallowed out significantly. I was looking forward to a film that was heavy on the moral compass and social commentary especially considering the age bracket that it’s targeted at, it just seems a little weak on those areas – make no mistake though, it does introduce us to those themes and perhaps in the sequels it will define them a bit better.
The cinematography in The Hunger Games is beautifully executed but there is some element that irked me. To create a sense of urgency, a director has a number of techniques in his quiver – in this case, the use of the shaky camera. It brings the audience into the action in personal way but unfortunately the technique is overused, often times in simple dialogue scenes that just didn’t require it. The over reliance might be unnoticeable for most but it became frustrating at times.
Whether it is faithful to the novel or not, Gary Ross has built an authentic universe for the tale of fantasy and not only is it genuine but it’s fun to watch and not as dumb as most recent adaptations.
The Bottom Line
The Hunger Games is a pleasure to watch, it’s long but not long winded and remains captivating. It’s hardly original though (many claim it to be a simple clone of Battle Royale) and can be contrived at times but where it wins is with its likable characters and the world built around them. Ultimately, where The Hunger Games succeeds most is in it’s flawless pacing which makes the a long journey extremely easy to watch. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t a little more intellectually stimulating though considering that it had plenty to work off of .