Proof Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

Release Date
March 23, 2012
Director
Gary Ross
Screenplay
Gary Ross
Suzanne Collins
Billy Ray
Based On Novel By
Suzanne Collins
Distributed By
Lionsgate Films
Budget
$78 million
Adventure, Family, Science Fiction, Thriller
Rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images — all involving teens
142 minutes

The Hunger Games

For months I have circled around the idea of reading the series, The Hunger Games. All my friends seemed to be enjoying themselves with the books and I was thoroughly captivated during the Harry Potter craze. But upon reading a detailed synopsis of the first book of The Hunger Games, I steered clear. Having now seen the film, I feel justified in the same reasons that I am reluctant to read the novels. The film itself, however, is still a very engaging and suspenseful young adult thriller, but too “young adult” for its own good.

Red flag number one keeping me from reading the series is the ever changing rules of the Games. This may seem like a minor issue to have with a storyline, but it is the principle. I can suspend my disbelief to justify a society deeming this acceptable brutal warfare between teenagers, but isn’t it bad enough that these adolescents must commit murder upon one another without adding extraneous elements to the mix? Is it really necessary for the creators to intentionally set the forest on fire in attempt to kill off one of the twenty-four combatants? My biggest complaint is the continuously changing the number of winners. The Games starts out allowing just one winner, then changes it to two, and then back to one. It comes off sloppy. Stick to simplicity. Pick your “tributes”, drop them in the battleground, and let them go to town. It’s as simple as that.

The film, alone, has some issues it needs ironed out before I could completely take it serious. For starters, the handheld camera work is horrendous at times, becoming erratic at the most random of times. I can understand chase scenes and tense moments being handheld, but a pleasant stroll through a wooded glen or characters conversing in a living room does not warrant a shaky camera.

Another problem I had was the editing. Instead of creating devices that are used effectively throughout the film, certain conventions are used sporadically. For example, a bland love story builds between characters Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and when they kiss in front of the cameras, there is an immediate cut to Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss’ love interest, who is hundreds of miles away. This convention of outsiders watching the games is never really established beforehand, so this blatant shifting of style is jarring and unwarranted. When this cut to Gale happens the second time Katniss and Peeta kiss, it becomes stiff and awkward.

The Hunger Games is not all bad. Behind its PG-13 facade, the film actually serves as a decent thriller. Had the film jumped fully onboard with an R rating (or if we could simply be done with the rating system…), it would have been much more intense and memorable. Instead, the deaths are glossed over, the hard facts are sugar-coated, and we are basically left with this awkward gray area between a thriller and a teenage drama.

Jennifer Lawrence commands her role, supplying the perfect face for the franchise. With films like Winter’s Bone and The Poker House under her belt, Jennifer knows how to play the lower class survivor, and plays it to perfection. Compared to these much more adult roles, however, she takes a step down to play Katniss, with very little allowance of character depth. She remains straight-faced and stoic throughout most of the film, and, due in part to the childish nature of the film, is not able to deliver the driving performance that we have come to expect from her.

Thank God for Woody Harrelson. By far the best performance in the film, Harrelson plays former Games winner, Haymitch. His role in the film is to teach Katniss and Peeta the best ways to survive the Games, but his drunkenly state and stand-offish demeanor prevents him from performing these duties. His change-of-heart remains one of the best parts of the film, as he scrambles to get Katniss sponsors and to keep her alive while in the Games. Alongside over-exaggerated performances from Elizabeth Banks and Wes Bentley, Harrelson’s low key acting and signature rough-guy-with-a-smile attitude definitely helps turn the film around.

The Hunger Games is a not-so-subtle version of The Truman Show, with a “big brother” controlling the world that these characters live in, and often to a fault. The film would have served better to have delved into darker territory, bringing the sinister nature of the story to the service. However the PG-13 rating and the desire to fill the theater seats with as many people as possible places a smoke-screen over the content and makes sure that everybody has a “good” time, but no one, no matter what the age, has a particularly “great” time. My interest is peaked for the next film, but if it suffers in the same way as The Hunger Games, I will be hard-pressed to say I will continue past that installment.

 

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