Movie Review: ‘The Hunger Games’

Posted Friday, March 23rd, 2012 04:00 pm GMT -4 by

The Hunger Games movie posterDid you read the book? That might be the most important question that determines if you enjoy the teen romance/adventure film ‘The Hunger Games’ or find it a bit baffling. It’s a constant challenge for films based on books, what to jettison, what to trim down, and which characters to simply erase from the story in the interest of time and story arc. In this case, director Gary Ross stuck quite close to the book, but at the price of character development, leaving us with a film that’s exciting, but confusing: why are all these people acting and reacting this way?

‘The Hunger Games’ takes place in a dark future where civilization has devolved into a central Capital district, the affluent seat of a strict, totalitarian government, and a dozen districts focused on producing specific goods for the Capital. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in District 12, along with her young sister Prim (Willow Shields) and ostensible boyfriend, the dashing rebel Gale (Liam Hemsworth). To ensure the continued repression of the districts, the Capital sponsors an annual fight to the death of children 12-18, picked randomly two from each district. The Hunger Games.

When Prim is chosen, Katniss volunteers in her place and is sent to the Capital to prepare for the games and her likely death along with fellow District 12 teenager Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). The contrast between the posh Capital and the impoverished mining community of District 12 is stark and fuels the resentment that the “tributes” from district 12 feel towards the establishment. But you’re in a fight to the death, what can you do to protest?

At one level, ‘The Hunger Games’ is the ultimate reality show, where everyone is required to watch and children are killing each other with the hope of winning and gaining benefit for their district. More, though, it’s a teen romance with the requisite triangle of Katniss, Peeta and Gale. Peeta has been secretly in love with Katniss for years, something he reveals as the Games begin. Gale, as you’d expect, is hurt, particularly as Katniss demonstrates increasing affection towards Peeta as they fight to stay alive in a huge outdoor arena. Is their love genuine, or is it an opportunity to garner favor with audience and sponsors alike?

I enjoyed ‘The Hunger Games’, but ultimately was disappointed at how incredibly little character development took place. Katniss is angry with her mother, for example, but it isn’t until far into the film that we learn why. In the meantime she’s just… angry. Other characters that were critical to the book end up as one-dimensional characters without any motivation in the film. For example, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is a very important part of the book but in the film, he’s a wasted character, on screen for just a few minutes. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) is an angry, disappointed former winner of the games dragooned into mentoring Katniss and Peeta, but comes across entirely too sympathetic in the film. He’s been completely screwed by the government — and President Snow — but he’s just not angry. Why?

I also can’t help but compare ‘The Hunger Games’ with ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, as both are launching strong franchises (‘The Hunger Games’ has had record-breaking advance ticket sales and I expect it’ll break $100mil this weekend). The difference is that from the very first scene we liked Harry, whereas even when the film ends, Katniss just isn’t a very sympathetic character and certainly the relationship between her and the other people who populate ‘The Hunger Games’ is tense and shallow.

Without deep characters we can identify with, ‘The Hunger Games’ just ends up an intense action film with a love triangle at its center. It could have been much, much more.

  • bsilverio20

    You’re completely right when you say that the level of enjoyment is dependent on whether or not a person read the book. Personally, I didn’t read the books, and I knew pretty much nothing about the franchise going into the movie, except it’s comparison to one of my favorite movies, ‘Battle Royale’, so take that in consideration while I say what I say next.

    I think that there was a bit more character development than you give it credit for. Katniss started out volunteering just to save her sister. She wanted to win and get home as soon as she could, but as the games began, she really started to play the game, especially when she realized that she could help someone else live. I think that ‘The Hunger Games’ had more character development than your average kill all the people type of movies, at least. 

    Also, I really enjoyed Woody Harrelson’s character, Haymitch. I liked his arc where he went from drunk and bitter to willing to work with Katniss and Peeta to stay alive. I do want to know more about the President and Gale though. Especially Gale, since he basically watched his girlfriend cheat on him in front of the whole world.

    Even though I was left with a lot of questions, it’s likely that they’ll be addressed later on in the trilogy (hopefully), so that doesn’t worry me too much. I do prefer when movies can stand alone, but in this day and age of the franchise, a movie needs to leave the audience wanting more so that they’ll come back for the next one.

    Overall, I found the story and characters to be interesting, and director Gary Ross did a great job putting it all together. Jennifer Lawrence did a great job in her role, also. For me, ‘The Hunger Games’ was really entertaining, and definitely one of the better movies to come out this year so far.

    One thing that I did question at the end though was Katniss’ quiver. I may be wrong, but it didn’t look like there were that many arrows in it when she first picked it up. Somehow, it managed to give her enough ammo to last for the rest of the games. Meh, I’ll chalk that one up to movie magic, I guess. Or a high tech bottomless quiver lol. 

  • Vicknitsmith

    I read the book & enjoyed yr comments. I wanted to SEE the hunger.
    It is apparent to me in the films that people are hungry & subjugated.
    That Katniss is near death from hunger the day he throws a loaf at her.
    They should all be eating ravenously on the train.
    Is there some problem with showing Jennifer Lawrence eating?

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