Friday, March 30, 2012

The Hunger Games Movie Review

There has been a substantial amount of buzz about The Hunger Games (2012), directed by Gary Ross. I was worried that the pre-release hype was going to be better than the movie itself. I think the marketing hype set us up to expect this generation’s Blade Runner (1982), but gave us something a little less than the hype prophesied.
Set in a dystopian future, North America was ruined by drought, fire, famine, and war to be replaced by Panem. This country is divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year two representatives (one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12-18) are selected at random to participate in The Hunger Games; part sports entertainment, part brutal intimidation tactic of the subjugated districts, and part reality television broadcast throughout Panem. The 24 participants are forced to eliminate each other in a fight-to-the-death while all the citizens watch. When 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) younger sister is selected as the mining district’s female “tribute,” Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), involuntarily attain a celebrity status but will not likely live through The Hunger Games as they are pitted against other participants who are bigger, stronger, and have trained their whole lives.
One would suppose that a movie with the word “games” in the title would have at least some level of joyous frivolity. The tone of this movie is actually quite somber. There are children bent on killing each other in any way possible. Children! That alone is a disquieting concept. There are also subjects of oppressive dictators, starvation, and inequality. With all of Panem glued to their televisions watching The Hunger Games, this dystopian future brings to mind visions of present day reality television; no one in The Capitol seems to think anything of youngsters killing one another, they are simply caught up in the entertainment value with no consideration of ethics or subject matter.
Jennifer Lawrence did quite well for her first appearance. Katniss is a quiet introvert, but still a strong, independent young woman. Her character is well developed early on, and we can believe why she is so skilled with a bow and arrows; she doesn’t simply pick it up and discover a predisposition towards it. Katniss doesn’t speak very much, fortunately we have The Hunger Games commentator Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) explaining some complex concepts that Katniss isn’t verbalizing. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy is a depressed alcoholic from District 12 who previously won The Hunger Games. He is meant to mentor Katniss and Peeta before they compete. His cynicism doesn’t seem to help either one.
Peeta has a romantic interest in Katniss, but it is not reciprocated. Peeta confesses this interest in a pre-game interview and then there is pressure for this love interest to grow, not only to please the viewers but to attract attention from sponsors who will send survival gear. Nothing brings a couple closer together than trying to survive a barbaric blood sport. Yet, I didn’t buy their romance. The actors just didn’t seem to have the right chemistry. And even though they are in the middle of a violent life or death situation, Katniss and Peeta still find time to smooch. I don’t mind smooching, but movie characters always seem to find the most inopportune moments to do so.
The art design and subject matter was interesting enough to watch, but the way the cinematographer captured it made me physically nauseated. There were a lot of shaky camera shots; as if there were cameramen running around trying to capture the action. That’s applicable, given the reality television theme of The Hunger Games, but on the other hand it made me feel pretty queasy watching it on the big screen. There were also close combat scenes where the camera was much too close to the actors to tell what was happening. There’s a struggle, obviously, but I couldn’t tell who was doing what to whom or even who was winning until the fight was over. Parts of this movie were pretty sloppy in terms of cinematography, but I don’t think it detracted too much from the movie overall.
I am constantly told by the fans of The Hunger Games that I need to read the books in order to appreciate the movie. I think that is a horrible thing to say about a movie! If the success and credibility of a film requires it’s viewer to read a book to make the movie palatable and understandable, then the movie itself can’t be solid or good enough to support itself as a good movie. Certainly I encouraged people who enjoyed the Harry Potter films to read the books, but Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) did not require the book to be read beforehand for the movie to be good. I have not read The Hunger Games (yet), and I think the movie is good enough to stand on its own.
The Hunger Games wasn’t too bad. While it was lengthy, it still seemed rushed and didn’t give enough time to develop some characters enough for the viewers to feel sorry for their losses. The child-on-child butchery is watered down with shaky camera work and careful edits, which ultimately weakened the adrenaline and cheapened the prolonged killing. Most of deaths just didn’t have much significance. I think Gary Ross simply assumed viewers wanted to see man-hunts and survival scenes more than they wanted to see commentary about how a cruel political system uses its subjects in a sick and twisted way. The Hunger Games was entertaining enough, and I recommend seeing it. I think it’s an above average renter, and possibly worth a matinee theater ticket; it’s not quite what they hype promised us.


  1. Take away the hullabaloo surrounding the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling young adult book and what you have is an absorbing film with a dire premise that stands pretty much on its own. Lawrence is also the stand-out here as Katniss and makes her seem like a real person rather than just another book character brought to life on film. Good review Dustin.

    1. Yeah, that's what I was thinking, too. The movie is pretty good on its own, though I now realize I didn't talk enough about its good qualities here. The Hunger Games is being compared to Harry Potter and Twilight, but really the only commonality is that they are all adaptations from successful book series. I had a Hunger Games fan recently tell me that it was even better than Twilight. Let's face it, most things are.
      Books are one thing and movies are another.
      Books and movies shouldn't be lumped together as one thing; they should have enough credibility to stand on their own. Thanks for your comments, Dan!

  2. Hey look! Another comment! :D

    Thank you SO much for your comment when you said "The Hunger Games is being compared to Harry Potter and Twilight, but really the only commonality is that they are all adaptations from successful book series." Such comparisons have been a real pet-peeve of mine for a while, and I'm glad to see you haven't been sucked into making similar mindless comparisons.

    You also commented "Books are one thing and movies are another." Very true! Like apples and oranges, they're really very different, and so each should stand on their own. You should definitely read the Hunger Games books, but not to better understand the movie; just to better understand the story as it was originally told...and to enjoy it all over again in a different media!

    And lastly, I haven't seen this movie yet, but I read the books, and in the first book Katniss and Peeta's "romance" is supposed to be very forced and faked. It becomes a real issue in the sequel. So I wonder if the actors performed like that on purpose because while Peeta would love to have a real relationship with Katniss, Katniss is just doing it to keep them both alive! She thinks Peeta's a nice guy and all, but love and romance has always been one of her lowest priorities, partly because she doesn't want to have to raise a family where her kids might one day be picked as Tributes! And yes, in the book she purposely tries to find any moment to smooch Peeta because she hopes it will win the audience's hearts as well as supplies from sponsors.

    Great review, though! My wife and I are starting to use this site more for quality movie reviews before we go see/check out/buy a movie. Keep 'em coming!

    1. Hooray for credibility! Thank you so much! I’m delighted you and your wife enjoy the reviews! I’m still working on writing reviews and trying to make them better. There’s something qualitative that I can’t put my finger on that just doesn’t seem quite right.

      Thanks for your comments about Katniss and Peeta. Those details weren’t explicitly developed in the movie, and that’s the kind of stuff needed to develop the characters well enough so we feel sorry for their losses. I think details like that would have made the awkwardness of their kissing scene more meaningful. The movie is still good and I recommend it; it just falls short in a few areas.

      I have every intention of reading The Hunger Games books; I actually wanted to long before the movie was being produced. I just hadn’t got around to it. It might be fun to compare the movie and the book, but each one should have enough credibility to be its own storytelling media distinct from the other.

      Keep reading my reviews and sharing them with others, and I’ll certainly keep them coming!

  3. I still have not seen the film. It seems to be showing very well here and I intend on reading the books first, though they will be out on DVD by the time that happens.

    Great review, though!

    1. Thanks! I’m glad you liked it. Yes, The Hunger Games movies seems to be doing very well everywhere. I think it’s certainly worth seeing, but I don’t think reading the book is prerequisite to enjoying the movie. I want to read the book, too! Just make sure you’re allowing the movie and book to be distinct medias that earn your favor, rather than combining them into one. The author, Suzanne Collins, and the director, Gary Ross, didn’t intend for their product to depend on the credibility of the other.
      Thanks for reading, and keep checking back for more reviews!

  4. This book-to-movie transition was done better than Twilight, or Harry Potter. I agree, it did feel a little rushed and I wish it emphasized more on the capitols oppression on the people, and its role in Panam. I also wish that the Mockingjay pin had the same story as the book, rather than a random merchant just giving it away to Katniss.
    All in all, I would still recommend the movie and feel that it does fair enough standing on its own to those who haven't read the books.

    Great blog, Dustin! You should totally be a movie critic when you grow up.

    1. I totally want to be a movie critic when I grow up!
      Thanks for your comments. The more people discuss The Hunger Games book versus the movie with me, the more I want to read the books! The idea of a dystopian society with an oppressive government sounds right up my alley.
      Yeah, it puzzled me why there was such an emphasis on the mocking jay pin in the promotions and trailers and then it played a rather trivial role in the movie. I expected Katniss to be hit with an arrow or something, only to have the mocking jay pin block the arrow or minimize the damage. Alas, nothing like that happened.