Movie Review: The Hunger Games

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland

Rated Pg-13 for Intense thematic and violent material and disturbing images- all involving teens) run time 2 hours, 22 mins, Action/ Adventure/ Sci-fi

Plays Like: The Running Man (1987), Gamer (2009). Gamer to be taken with a grain of salt.

In trying to find a new Harry Potter, or a new Twilight, Lionsgate has arrived at Hunger Games. Upon first hearing of it, I couldn’t bring myself to care. “Yes, that’s exactly what I need; another multi-million dollar franchise about a bunch of adolescents that cry about every melodramatic thing that happens to their amazingly extraordinary lives. Boo hoo, I’m so special.”

But heck, I was still going to watch. And after Eragon and Legend of the Seeker and all those other forgettable Young-Adult movies that were desperately trying to get their sequels, we might finally see a series worth following through to the end.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a resident of District 12 out of twelve, has been chosen along with twenty-three other teens to participate in the annual Hunger Games; a free-for-all massacre to see who will be the last kid standing. Set up by The Capitol, a society made of mindless, pompous consumers who created the games to keep the twelve districts in their place. When the games begin, which single contestant, if any, will make it out alive?

All things considered, I had no exact expectations of this film. Word-of-mouth and the trailer alone made it clear this was no Twilight; but it’s not enough to be better than the worst. But from the beginning, it’s made clear that this isn’t here to simply please 12 year old girls. When Katniss’ sister is picked for the game in the beginning, the serious tone of the movie is immediately set. The unsteady camerawork throughout the film did an excellent job of conveying the uncertainty of the characters themsleves, and their immediate future.

The lack of score in many of the more (or should I say most) serious scenes also added to the intensity, rather than the audience being told how we’re supposed to feel. No Death Cab for Cutie or Dashboard Confessional here. At least, not until the credits where Taylor Swift breaks out. But hey, gotta have your merchandising somewhere, right? I was waiting for a girl with an acoustic guitar to start playing in the background when romantic leads began looking at each other, but thankfully, it didn’t happen. What? Does director Gary Ross actually know what he’s doing? Is he taking a potential cash cow film property and doing more with it than just getting a fat paycheck? Evidently so.

Suzanne Collins, the author of the novel, stated that her idea for the story came from flipping the channels back and forth from a war story on the news to a reality show. Throw in a little bit of the gladitorial games and thus…The Hunger Games was born. I found this interesting in part because while watching the movie, a conversation is had between two characters about the games themselves. “What if no one watched? No one watches, no reason to have the games.” Katniss responds with cynically with “That won’t happen.” A conversation eerily similar to my own when discussing reality TV.

This possible allegory could be taken one step further when we’re introduced to the sprawling metropolis of The Capitol, the city that controls the districts and only looks at the contestants of the Games as specatators do to atheletes on the field; as if the few picked to participate weren’t going to slaughter each other within the next couple days. “Oohing” and “aahing” at every syllable or gesture made by each contestant, the citizens of The Capitol are shown to be little more than gaudy, painted shells. The false teeth and ugly powdered wigs only made me think that living for nothing more than yourself is as empty as it sounds and if this is the future, you’d rather be forced to be apart of the Games.

A myriad of stars are introduced throughout the preparing process, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland and Lenny Kravitz all play their roles to a strange degree of precision. I say “strange” because most of those I named are covered in powder, make up, wigs, and false teeth, acting more as robots than people. And I mention Lenny Kravitz because really- how the heck did that get worked out? It’s almost as puzzling as freaking Tyler Perry leaving Planet Perry for a day to make an appearance in the last Star Trek(2009). Even if you like him, don’t act like you weren’t confused.

A standout performance, if I do say so myself, would be by none other than Woody Harrelson himself. Harrelson, who just seems to be a roll for the past few years, or just 2009 alone (Defendor, Zombieland, The Messenger) is content playing a supporting role here. A former champion of the Games from Katniss’ District, Harrelson is an greasy haired alcoholic who, while meant to mentor Katniss and her male counterpart starts out by breaking down any moral fortitude our young protagonists might have in telling them to accept the fact that they are going to die.

One thing to watch out here for is the violence. While rated PG-13, that didn’t stop the makers from shying too far away from the ineveitable some of these 12 year olds face. Yes, I said 12 year olds. Knives, arrows, swords and spears are all used as offensive weapons here and these kids wield them mercilessly. Blood is splattered and skin is pierced as the contestants are trying to win while others merely attempt to survive; some to no avail. I’m not complaining though; this factor alone was enough make me give it the benefit of the doubt. It took away the assumptions that this was solely meant for “tweens” when a couple of them are the first ones to meet their demise when the competition starts.

I liked this. It wasn’t a rare gem that completely sideswiped me, as the marketing and hype destroyed any notion of a surprise hit, but if Hollywood is offering a new franchise for teens, I see no problem with this film being the diamond in the rough, as it doesn’t leave out it’s more mature audiences either. And if the government is ever looking to bring a competition like this to life in the future, we can start with certain already popular reality show stars. I won’t complain. Heck, throw in some kids from Project X.

Grade: B

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