Unreal Movie Review: The Hunger Games

With Harry Potter off being an auror and Bella about to bite her lip for the final time, a void has opened up in the movie industry. What new series will set aflame the audiences that have made these franchises such huge hits for their studios?

I was surprised to learn that it was The Hunger Games, a series whose central plot point is a contest which has teenagers murdering each other with blades, bows and their bare hands in an arena for the amusement of the elite. But throw in a high fashion makeover here, a love triangle there, and the concept can become decidedly young adult.

The first film in the series is opening to great reviews and massive fan turnout. The series lacks the flowery prose of Twilight or the whimsicalness of Harry Potter, but is a rather fascinating creation in itself.

The post-apocalypse world we see here is different than most we’ve heard of before. After nuclear war (or something like it), the fraction of the US population that remains is called “Panem.” The land is divided into 13 districts, each specializing in a different sort of resource. While sectors like 1 and 2 are full of the wealthy, the rest are often exceptionally poor, with our hero’s district 12 looking like a coal mining town stuck in 1930.

American Idol gets weird in the future.

The titular Hunger Games is an annual contest meant to remind the twelve remaining districts (the 13th was wiped off the map during a rebellion) that they all must remain unified and beholden to the Capitol. Each district offers up one teenage boy and girl to fight the others to the death in a spacious arena. The winner earns fame, fortune and food for their district. The losers become a stark reminder of the Capitol’s power.

This year, Katniss Everdeen volunteers herself as the female tribute so her younger sister Prim, chosen via lottery, doesn’t have to go. She’s paired with local boy Peeta, and the two journey to the capitol where they’re made over into national celebrities before they’re thrust into the brutal games.

The concept borrows heavily from The Lottery, Ender’s Game and of course, Battle Royale, but chances are the main target audience for the series hasn’t watched a movie about Japanese schoolchildren equipped with exploding collars and machine guns. It’s not fair to dismiss The Hunger Games as a ripoff of any other previous work, as outside of the “children fighting” theme, the world is all its own.

And what a world it is. The film is broken up into three main locales. District 12 looks like a depression era poverty pit while Capitol City appears to be a mix of LA and ancient Egypt, filled to the brim with rich loons wearing powdered wigs and four inch eyelashes. It’s The Fifth Element meets Amadeus.

Why would you have your brutal police force dress in white? Those bloodstains will NEVER come out.

The games themselves become an entirely separate scene as the kids hunt each other down in a vast forest that really does exacerbate the Battle Royale comparisons. Katniss is at an advantage because of her hunting and tracking abilities, but the stronger kids trained from birth to fight all gang up on her, and Peeta’s allegiance remains in question.

Having read the books, the movie really is perfectly cast. The best of the bunch include Woody Harrelson as the drunken District 12 mentor Haymitch and Stanley Tucci as Capitol talk show host Caesar. I really liked Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta, and actually found his quiet strength to be more compelling than Katniss’s…well, whatever she has.

Katniss was a sort of an odd lead in the book. She becomes a national icon and symbol of resistance, but seems like she can’t be bothered by it for most of the series. But at least in the book, told in first person, we get an intimate view of her every thought about what’s happening. But in the film? Jennifer Lawrence’s version of her is probably the least talkative character onscreen, and she doesn’t have much of a personality, outside of a few rare outbursts. Unfortunately, Katniss might be the weakest aspect of the film, which is troubling for a lead.

A trio of the REAL stars.

Many were worried that making the film PG-13 would force the violence to be toned down, but even as someone who pushes for R-ratings whenever possible, I must admit it’s handled well here. The movie does a hard gear shift the moment the games start, and the makeovers and goofy Capitol residents give way to a brutal slaughter at the Cornucopia as the bell sounds in what is possibly the movie’s best sequence. After that, there are plenty of stab wounds and neck breaking to go around, and even if it’s not out of a Tarantino film, it’s still jarring when juxtaposed with the rest of the film.

My only real complaint about the action is the debatable use of the shaky cam which can be overdone at times. Often it’s like the movie is being filmed in a  never ending earthquake, and even in casual conversation the camera zooms in on various points of people’s bodies, refusing to sit still for even a minute.

The film is fun, my audience cheered and applauded through several parts, but I wouldn’t say it’s astonishing. Perhaps some of the suspense and mystery is lost if you’ve already read the book, and chances are almost everyone will end up  making the tried and true claim that “the book was better.”

Is it? Probably. Katniss’ constant narration is missed, but in terms of major changes, there really isn’t anything left out or changed that should upset fans to a great degree. They breezed over some District 12 parts, changed a few moments in the actual battle itself, but on the whole it’s a pretty faithful adaptation.

It’s clear this is going to be our up and coming big teen-centric series for the next few years, and though it might not blow you away, you could certainly do worse. Not a goddamn vampire in sight.

3.5 out of 5 stars


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  1. “I was surprised to learned that it was The Hunger Games”

    “as the bell sounds in what is possible the movie’s best sequence”

    “Perhaps some o f the suspense”

    Good review other than that though…

  2. I really enjoyed the film. I’d actually been putting off reading Hunger Games considering the friends who were begging me to read it were the same group that love Twilight. Though, after promising to pay for my opening night ticket, I sat down and pushed through it in about five hours. The concept caught me off guard, then the book fully roped me in. That being said, I was doing a MASSIVE movie-to-book faux pas by reading it the day OF the movie. You know that ‘this is what I want to see’ feeling you have when you read books? It was eerie how much matched up. Katniss was exactly how I pictured her. I imagined Peeta to be a little taller, but eh. Everything clicked for me. As a previous poster mentioned, the shaky camera got old ten minutes into Cloverfield, please, someone tell this to Hollywood. Katniss barely said anything and was still a better actor visually and emotionally than that god-awful Kristen Stewart. I give it 4 out of 5. Stuck close to the book, and managed to make me happy right out of reading the book.

    Seriously, get that red-eyed bitch some laxatives.

  3. I get the feeling that a lot the shaky cam weirdness was to duck an R rating. You’ll notice that it gets really bad whenever someone is getting killed.

  4. The shaky cam drove me nuts. And Please, somebody, tell me why Jennifer Lawrence is so “desirable” in this film. She is not pretty to me at all, and while she is a better actress than Bella (shit, who isn’t?!?), she wasn’t that good, just as she wasn’t good in X-Men. And she definitely wasn’t a young version of Rebecca Romijn!!!

  5. Woody Harrelson was just perfect. He really scrubbed his West Texas accent down for this role – softened it up quite a bit and it just worked. I don’t know if that was Gary Ross’ or Harrelson’s doing, but it was a good departure from his usual yeehaw voice. And he portrayed the character just like a guy who’d mentored sacrificial lambs from his home district for 20 years only to watch them get butchered. Tortured looks ftw!

    Also, I don’t know who thought to put Stanley Tucci as Flickerman (might’ve been HIS idea, who knows?) but wow, what a performance. Talk about casting against type. I felt sorry for his sidekick – guy might’ve said more than 10 words but they ended up on the cutting room floor.

    I thought the violence was pretty intense for a PG-13 – I’m not squeamish but it’s not a horror film; I don’t need to see 12 year old kids get chopped up in Drive-like detail to understand that they’re being killed. Some of it was pretty brutal; the wasps turning Glimmer(?) into a mummified pustule, that Thresh dude treating Clove like a hammer on that tree and dropping her like a dead fish, and Cato turning that kid’s head around for letting the food explode…I guarantee you if a nip slipped that would have sealed an R rating.

    I think the girl they picked as Rue was very good – in her short time she was able to bring off the big sister/little sister dynamic.

    As for the mutts, well, I wasn’t impressed. Not just their lack of detail (we hardly see them, really) but the implementation. When they’re introduced, they treat it like it was just something the techs came up with right that minute. Gee, how are we gonna get them to the Cornucopia…hmm….oh, look, how about THESE? Yeah, that looks awesome! Where’d you get that? Use those! The whole command center was pretty vanilla, IMO.

  6. Good review. I had no desire at all to see this movie and after reading this, I’m almost interested. The shaky cam warning though, is holding me off. I have very bad vertigo and shaky cam makes me queasy. True story, I barfed into my popcorn container when I saw the Blare Witch project.

  7. @EJ She wasn’t as good in the Hunger Games as she was in Winters Bone that’s for sure. But damn she’s pretty.

    I really enjoyed the film having not read the book, so did the girlfriend (who’s now ordered the books haha). It did seem to have some pretty big plot holes though.

  8. But there WERE huge plot points that were brushed over. Like the whole thing involving the mockingjay pin. Or how no one thought to show how the mutt’s eyes were from the dead contestants. Or that, you know, Peeta lost a leg. Or how Snow was forcing Katniss to fake being in love, and how she failed at it.

    The beginning where they were training was also done poorly, because we were supposed to see that Peeta and Katniss were training together and doing EVERYTHING together, so when Peeta decides to continue training alone, it’s a huge blow. Instead the person behind me said, “weren’t they already training separately?”

    Katniss didn’t drug Peeta, she didn’t receive the bread from Rue’s district, and she didn’t get the goat cheese from her district.

    Before Foxface died, her name was said exactly once, by Peeta, and nobody could put that name to a face before she died.

    Peeta also did not follow Katniss when she went hunting, so we couldn’t watch him try to help and be important, but he was as loud as if he were in tap shoes on linoleum. We couldn’t even see that Gale went through her head at any point in the movie. And way to not even show the cabin by the lake in the begining, a place that becomes a huge plot point later on, or the fact that Katniss recognized an Avox that served her in the Capitol.

    And where were Cinna’s assistants? If this were to be a trilogy, what would happen to them?

    I’m surprised that they actually skimmed over the fact that her father died in a mine accident.

    Oh! And so much for all tributes being allowed to bring one thing from their district. We don’t need to know that Rue trusted her initially because of the Mockingjay pin. I also loved how they decided to not even talk about how terrible it was living in District 11.

    I was annoyed that I actually paid to see this in Imax.

  9. I read the book before seeing the movie, and let me tell you, i did not like the movie at all. It was missing big parts from the book, they didn’t show how she almost died of thirst, how bad Peeta was with his infected leg. How she had to drug him to go and fight for his medication. ANd it was an injection not cream that she put on him for him to get better. big miss in the movie was also that PEETA LOST HIS LEG!! Hello!!! Just pissed me off. Also, how the mutts look like the tributes that lost their lives. A lot of that aggravated me, especially Peeta loosing his leg and not in the movie. Oh and also, how Clove cut Katniss head so bad that she was bleeding really bad and was just as bad as Peeta. ANyway, I should have waited for it to be on video. I mean how can you miss that huge part that peeta lost his leg. come on.

  10. Although there were some plot points missing from the book, this was an over all good adaptation from book to movie.

    Director Gary Ross even sat down with Suzanne Collins (author of The Hunger Games) and they paged flipped though the book to see what they should keep in and take out. I’d say that was a smart move from the director.

    My only gibe with the movie was that the mockingjay lost its significance. I don’t know, to me that is the symbol to the story, Katniss transforming into the mockingjay that started a revolution and it was brushed aside like used toilet paper. Sure they kept the pendent in the film, but really that’s all it is now, a used bloodied up non-significant pendant.

    So i’m curious to see how the next movie is going to hit off. There will always be disappointments, but if you can learn to see past the flaws you can always find a diamond in the rough.

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