The Hunger Games- A satisfying meal
I am a latecomer to this phenomenon. I don’t really remember hearing much about Suzanne Collins’s book series as they were released, except that they were supposed to be quality young adult literature. I paid more attention to the details surrounding the film adaptation that was forming because it involved the media I focus heavily on. Either way, I am not a long-time fan, yearning to see my beloved novel on screen (I’m currently reading the first book), nor am I completely ambivalent to the event.
The film takes place in a futuristic dystopia in which society has crumbled into the 12 Districts of Panem, controlled by The Capitol. Each year, the Districts must randomly select a young man and a young woman to compete in The Hunger Games: a battle royale event that forces the young “Tributes” to kill each other until there is only one left standing. The Games are sold as a symbol of sacrifice and honor toward Panem, when they are really a means of further controlling the fears and hopes of the populace.
The film makes its two best moves in the forms of director, Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) and lead actress, Jennifer Lawrence, as Katniss Everdeen. Ross is an atypical choice for this mega-blockbuster because of his prior filmography, but it ends up an inspired one because of his ability to focus on character and story before action set-pieces.
Katniss (Lawrence) of the poor coal mining community of District 12, volunteers herself for the Games after her younger sister is chosen in her first year of eligibility (age 12). Her male counterpart chosen is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a young man with ample charisma, but little real confidence in his ability to win.
Where this film rises above other young adult franchises (besides respectable source material) is through its attention to character. Yes, Katniss is involved in a “love triangle” between Peeta and her seemingly true love, Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Gale is another young man in District 12 that serves as Katniss’s best friend and helping hand. The key with the relationships is that Katniss doesn’t need to be with either of them. In fact, she actively does not want to and it is within organic story evolution that she becomes involved with Peeta and then Gale, at all.
Lawrence is such a gifted young actress that it is not hard for an audience to believe in her pain within the Games and the resignation she has toward others in her life. She is a beautiful presence but carries a weight in her eyes and face that suggest a sincerity to everything she does.
Excellent work is done by the entire supporting cast including: Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, among others. Their work grounds the film and the actors never once wink at the camera even though their roles come off as cartoonish. It is all played straight and the film is served much better for it.
The film seems to drag a little before we get to the Games, but I didn’t mind as it served as great reasoning why we should care about these characters as they are about to go and die. You get to see the pure youth of all of the other combatants as well as the evolution and devolution of those confident during training then frightened during the Games and vice versa.
The entire hook of the film (kids killing kids) is genuinely jarring. The film is a PG-13, but there is a healthy amount of blood and death that, at least for me, is tough because of the people that are doing it. The opening scene of the Games is brutal as kids are being killed hand-over-fist while running toward a collective stash of weaponry. Ross dilutes this violence through his use of quick-cutting and shaky-cam, but it’s still more than evident.
One of the major complaints I have with the film involves this shaky-cam as it is used faaaar too much and in some unnessecary places. I would have rather he shot in classical style but I was able to overlook this eventually, albeit much later than I would have liked.
This is a mega-blockbuster done right. There is a polish (with some dodgy CGI) and professionalism that most blockbusters have but The Hunger Games also carries quite the heart and affection for story as well. I was truly moved by the relationships between characters and I could feel for Peeta as he falls for Katniss. Peeta is left in an unenviable position (as are all the characters, so that’s not spoiler-ish) that I’m sure many of us can relate to and we can see just how much he may end up hurting as this series moves on. These instances of pain are all completely earned and occur for actual thematic purpose, instead of, “now let’s make her get with him”, reasoning.
There is also one of the most beautifully filmed and edited deaths in the film involving 1st person POV and a riot that very nearly got me. The movie is at times haunting with its imagery and there are frames that I’ll likely remember for some time.
Moments like this and the story as a whole in The Hunger Games ended up mattering to me because of the efforts put in by all of the cast and crew. It has a relevance to my life and it told a story nicely and unflinchingly. I look forward to reading the novels and am excited to see the next one on screen sooner rather than later.