Hunger Games Review

poster from the Lionsgate film The Hunger Games

I read the Hunger Games books several years ago and though I was annoyed by the first person present tense narration, I was impressed by the story. It was kind of like Stephen King’s The Long Walk with a nod to Roman gladiators. There are a very small number of movies that are better than their books, but I thought Hunger Games could be one of them because the narration would no longer be an issue and we could focus on the story:

A rebellious hunter volunteers to take her sister’s place in an annual government-run game show that forces teens from outlying districts to fight to the death.

I bought my ticket several weeks ahead of time for the first midnight showing and arrived an hour early to make sure I didn’t end up with a seat that would give me a neckache and a migraine. I suffered through a whole hour of doofus teenagers shouting things at the top of their lungs in anticipation of being rewarded by an excellent movie. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped.

My first mistake was in assuming that the movie version would be able to escape the annoying narration. In what was no doubt an effort to capture the “immediacy” (I hate that word) of the book, director Gary Ross opted to film much of the movie in close-up on handhelds, resulting in shaky footage of feet, hands, and ears in a flurry of green forest background which annoyed me even more than the writing style in the book.

Jennifer Lawrence on the set of the Lionsgate film The Hunger Games

Back the F off, dude, Jennifer Lawrence’s neck hairs are not that interesting.

The direction really ruined it for me, which was a shame, because the casting and acting was excellent. Jennifer Lawrence managed to walk that fine line between toughness and not being a douchebag playing Katniss, a hunter from the coal mining District 12. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, the baker’s son tapped to be her counterpart in the Games, was able to be a nonviolent also-ran without turning his character into a whiny tag-along.

Katniss and Peeta from the Lionsgate film The Hunger Games

PEETA: I’ll try not to get in your way while I’m getting horribly murdered.
KATNISS: Um, how about you actually try not to get killed?

And even though Liam Hemsworth doesn’t get much screen time as Gale, Katniss’ best friend and fellow hunter from her home district, I still get that sense that I got in the book that he’s a better match for Katniss than Peeta, who uses his very real crush on her to gain them sympathy with the game show’s viewers by coaxing her into a relationship.

Katniss and Gale from the Lionsgate film The Hunger Games

Poor Gale, should have said something sooner, eh?

A surprising amount of the film is spent outside of the bounds of the arena. In fact, the movie is probably halfway over before the competition even starts. In the runup, we see the state of the world and the people who control it. There’s a central Capital, which is actually not all that impressive or science-fictioney.

Capital of Panem from the Lionsgate film The Hunger Games

It mostly just looks like a smaller version of Caprica from BSG

The Capital is full of Romaneqsue citizens who live in luxury. In the book they modify themselves surgically for kicks, giving themselves cat’s eyes and green skin or whatever, but in the movie they mostly just dress like circus clowns, have stupid haircuts, and wear a lot of make-up, which is not very science fictioney either.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket from the Lionsgate film The Hunger Games

Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), the publicist for District 12,
looks like that creepy clown from Stephen King’s “It.”

The Capital controls the country of Panem (a ruined USA, natch), which is made up of 12 Districts that are each responsible for some sort of industry (mining, agriculture, manufacturing, etc.) Because of a rebellion that occurred about 75 years ago, the Capital forces each district to send two “tributes” to compete in the Hunger Games as a punishment/reminder of the Capital’s power. The richer the district, the better trained and more bloodthirsty the tributes, some of whom embrace the Games to the point of volunteering for them.

Volunteer tributes from the rich districts from the Lionsgate film The Hunger Games

Yo, losers. We’re going to eat your livers and like it.

Katniss is unwilling to conform to anything, including being forced to murder cute little girls from other parts of the country, and inadvertently starts to become a symbol of rebellion for the districts. Their resistance becomes emblemized by her pin, which features a Mockingjay, a crossbred bird from a failed government program, and her district’s unique Boy Scout/Girl Guide inspired salute.

Katniss gives her salute from the Lionsgate film The Hunger Games

Not that a middle finger wouldn’t have been a more appropriate gesture to flash to the audience.

The reason The Hunger Games works so well as a story is because it combines the total horror of teenagers being forced to murder each other with an overarching story of fighting back against government manipulation. Katniss uses her hunting skills to survive in the arena, but she also uses her compassion to manipulate an audience that would never have thought to question the Capital into fighting for her, her little friend Rue (Amandla Stenberg), and her “boyfriend” Peeta.

Donald Sutherland as President Snow from the Lionsgate film The Hunger Games

I just thought you’d want to know that, as your President, I don’t LIKE murdering your children.
Okay, maybe I do. But what’re you gonna do about it?

This is why I think you should see the Hunger Games, whether you’re an adult or a kid. It’s a universal story – the reliability doesn’t diminish as the age of the audience increases. It’s not necessary to read the book first or even afterward, because they follow the plot exactly and don’t really even drop anything due to time constraints. The shaky close-ups are annoying, but not a deal breaker. Who knows – maybe you won’t notice them, or maybe you’ll even like it.

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