Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The current hottest YA Trilogy involves a futuristic reality show, recycled SF tropes, and mainstreamed dystopia. Whether you’ve read the books or not, you’ll likely enjoy the film.

You might not find it bears repeated viewings, however.

Title: The Hunger Games

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Gary Ross

Written by Suzanne Collins, Gary Ross, and Billy Ray, from the novel by Suzanne Collins.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark
Alexander Ludwig as Cato
Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy
Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman
Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane
Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen
Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne
Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket
Paula Malcomson as Katniss’ Mother
Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith
Brooke Bundy as Octavia
Lenny Kravitz as Cinna
Amandla Stenberg as Rue
Jack Quaid as Marvel
Donald Sutherland as President Snow

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.

Premise:

In a dystopic future, two youth from each district surrounding the capitol must take part in the annual Hunger Games, which serve both as punishment for past rebellious actions and entertainment for the futuristic society.

Katniss Everdeen volunteers to go in place of her sister, and she may be playing for higher stakes than the governing powers realize.

High Points:

The film captures much of what made the novels so successful. We have teen fantasies of love, survival, and rebellion, and they’re much healthier fantasies than those found in Twilight. We also have obvious but occasionally clever satiric reflections on reality tv, media influences, socioeconomic divisions, contemporary coming-of-age, and many more topics of interest.

Teens enter an often brutal world where a combination of survival skills and personal likeability will determine their future success. I think everyone understands why that hits the mark with so many young people.

Low Points:

President Snow opines that too much hope is dangerous, and it’s a fair Machiavellian precept. However, he delivers it remarkably early on, in response to Katniss’s initial high score. His media lackeys, meanwhile, find his observation surprising. Really? In the years they’ve run the Hunger Games, this is the first time the president has ever had this response? And with so little reason? Has he read the Trilogy already?

Likewise (although we have references to past riots), the rioting in response to a certain character’s death comes as a shock to the elite. Again, are we to believe the elite only now see the potential for their Games to provoke rebellion, rather than quell it?

The Scores:

Originality: 1/6 We have a film adaptation of a novel with a central premise that has been used (in variations) many times before, most notably in Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, and tropes that will be familiar to SF readers.

Effects: 6/6 Strong visual effects create a nearly-familiar world; the CGI within the tournament itself could be stronger.

Story: 5/6 The story holds up. The pace runs slow in a place or two, but the key moments generate the necessary excitement.

Acting: 6/6 A stellar cast do an excellent job of portraying the characters. Save for the principals, however, those characters lean towards being types rather than people.

Production: 5/6 The film features decent production and a distinct look.

Emotional Response: 5/6

Overall: 5/6. I accept that the violence must be cleaned up in a film with a youthful target audience. I’m puzzled, however, by Ross’s decision to keep the camera shaking in every scene.

In total, The Hunger Games receives 33/42.

4 replies on “Movie Review: The Hunger Games”

  1. Damien says:

    Given this is a deathmatch featuring children, how *is* the violence level? (no, I haven’t read the books)

    • JD DeLuzio says:

      It’s in the PG-13/A-14 range. We certainly see fighting and killing, but far less gore and blood than would be possible if these event were actually transpiring. In terms of younger people going, it would depend on their sensitivity level; some of the scenes are fairly intense.

      Of course, the younger a person is, the more eye-opening and original the ideas in the movie would seem.

  2. Don says:

    I have not seen the movie yet, but… In response to your low point, look at North Korea when Kim Jong Il died. The people responded with a over the top display of grief and sadness. And from the articles I read, they really believed felt it. Why would they show so much emotion for a dictator? Because the socialization and pressures (jail and death being the two main motivators) guide them towards that direction, and people have a marvelous ability to believe things if it pushed on them long and hard enough.

    Now take the Hunger Games, same thing. An oppressive government, with a tyranical ruler, who is not afraid to kill someone on a whim. It is not that they do not understand that the Games are wrong and could cause a rebellion, but they have been socialized and pounded on to believe that the Games will keep the districts under control and that they are a justice being served upon criminals.

  3. rickyjames says:

    I had the misfortune of seeing THG from the front row after buying into a nearly-sold-out timeslot on opening night. Trust me, you do NOT want to see this film on the front row. This director used shakeycam and fast cuts and motion pans even during routine conversations and I came away not only with a headache and eye strain but neck whiplash.

    Still, I enjoyed it and overall it was a good-to-excellent movie. Not really sci-fi, or romance, or morality tale, tho it blended all of those elements; just a good story about a strong young woman. It will be a blockbuster, and deservedly so.

    What can I say, it is a totally faithful adaptation of the book with a violence level that is appropriate for a PG-13 movie aimed at a mid-teen audience on the subject of kiddie mass murderers being turned loose in Thunderdome. The book is surprisingly complex and subtle in a lot of ways, particularly on details of Katniss’ evolving romantic feelings in her triangle with Gale and Peeta. This is pretty much unavoidably whitewashed over in the movie; thank God they didn’t go for voiceover, which would have sucked. What exposition was in the movie was done as reality TV commentary cutaways, which were held to a bare minimum and briefly explained truly essential things that were about to happen like the trackerjackers and the mines.

    One interesting thing is that by not being locked into Katniss’s first person viewpoint in the book, there was some significant additional backstory in the movie that was not in the book concerning President Snow and the Gamemaster. Neither of these are really even shown at all in the book, except for perhaps the one time Katniss sees the Gamemaster from afar during her William Tell moment with the pig. I read in one review that such a structure propels THG into superhero origin-story status by providing the Minor Villain who meets his doom in this movie (tho Katniss is totally unaware of it) and the Major Villian Who Will Be Back. Good point, and something not in the book.

    Go see it. Read the books. Which one first has pros and cons. Having done both, I’d say movie first then book because both spoil the ending for the other, but reading the book later allows the story to expand as you get more detail instead of saying “Yeah, but what about…” and criticizing the fact that the movie isn’t eight hours long and had to cut such glorious detail. Both are great and complement each other.

    One other thing, Jennifer Lawrence was born to play this role. The casting was great but she is PERFECT. She received an Academy nomination a year or two ago for Winter’s Bone, and if you haven’t seen that, get the BluRay or download it. Exact same character actually doing pretty much the exact same story in today’s rural Arkansas instead of futuristic Panem. Well worth your time, she is an amazing actress.

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