Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games.Â A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which "Tributes" must fight with one another until one survivor remains. Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy.Â If she's ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Soundtrack: The Hunger Games (Songs from District 12 and Beyond) - Soundtrack
Books: The Hunger Games Trilogy
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A film such as The Hunger Games almost seems ridiculous to write a review of, because fans of the New York Times bestselling book of the same name will see the film regardless of what any film critic, friend, or even their mother may say. The enormous popularity of the novels is staggering to an outsider, and the amount of money The Hunger Games movie has made in pre-sale tickets record breaking (it is over 15 million dollars, to date). There are those who have not read the books, or even heard much about them--and no, these are not people living under a rock but simply those whose reading preferences do not take them to the YA (Young Adult) department of the local online bookseller. Whether to write the review for the casual would-be-viewer or the die-hard fan is a difficult choice; the best choice is to bridge the line between the two as best possible, without damning the film for the adaptation errors or praising the film for what it is in and of itself, if these merits or lack of exist, respectfully.
The Hunger Games takes place in a place called Panem. This fictitious world is mankind's future, after war has ravaged the land and a new order put in place, with the Capitol being the center of the government. In order to remind the people of Panem, who live in 12 districts (similar to states), of the errors of the past and the cost of treason is to annually hold what they call 'The Hunger Games'. Two youths from each district, a boy and a girl, are chosen by way of lottery to compete to the death against one another, and the other tributes, as they are named, in The Hunger Games. The competition is televised for all of the Districts to watch, and the victor becomes a hero, showered with wealth for the entirety of their life--celebrity is given to he/she who gains victory by violent acts or resourcefulness. Dying in The Hunger Games is not always by the hand of your fellow tribute but can be from natural elements, injury inflicted by outside forces, animal attacks, dehydration, or a weapon. The survival of the fittest is the natural assumption for whom will be victorious in the Hunger Games, but as with any man-made game where humans are treated as game, there are unnatural forces at work; the Hunger Games are meant to be exciting, to draw a crowd, and keep the District's inhabitants and those of the Capitol entertained. Entertainment can be manufactured, as you will find in the arena the Hunger Games takes place within that is under control by the Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley).
Out of the 24 Tributes there is one whose main point-of-view is followed in The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) of District 12. District 12 is known as the coal district, and for being one of the least desirable places to live. Her fellow District Tribute is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the son of the District's baker who has led a better life than Katniss as her family is one of the poorest. By way of Katniss the viewer is introduced to the strange and twisted world of Panem; as well as the kitschy stylings of the Capitol's inhabitants. Katniss' handler Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is the worst one, with her pink wig, sky-high heels, ghastly long fingernails, white make-up caked face and saturated in color ensembles that mimic bad 1980s fashion in conflict with Terry Gilliam's Brazil. Everyone and everything in the Capitol is overindulged to the point of sickening representation of a feudal system that is never spoken of in The Hunger Games. The movie is all about Katniss' journey to play in the games, and the obstacles she faces along the way, including her fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta and the will-they-or-won't-they romance that is manufactured, or is it?
The Hunger Games is an obvious statement on a dystopian future, but it never delves into the critical matters available for analysis and conjecture the story provides. It holds your attention just as well as The Most Dangerous Game, Battle Royale or the all-time classic Lord of the Flies. This is a film composed of many other films, without anything remotely original to say. With Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, holding the viewer's attention by way of her incredible ability to show emotion without needing words, or to be captivating to watch even when tied to a tree, The Hunger Games maintains itself as an alternative science fiction/fantasy/thriller that you cannot stop watching. The not wanting to look away stemming from the curiosity over exactly what will happen in The Hunger Games to the Tributes, and especially Katniss. Even if the climax does nothing for you, except provide a glimmer that the next film in the franchise may be better, it does a great job at playing with the "Romeo and Juliet" dilemma, and 'hell hath no fury like a man scorned' philosophy.
Adapted from the novel "The Hunger Games" by Suzanne Collins, the film version is depth-deprived in terms of character development, relationships among people, and a clear explanation as to what the world of Panem is like, or the core objectives of the Nation. A few opening titles give a brief explanation about Panem, the history and why the Hunger Games are held each and every year--the reason being to remind people of the consequences of treason. An opening video chat between Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) instantly displays the dramatic decadence that exists in the Capitol, even before the viewer understands what the Capitol is or who these individuals may be in relation to the story. A quick cut and we meet Katniss, as she soothes her sister Prim after a bad dream. It is the day of the Reaping, when two youths will be chosen to represent Katniss' District 12 in the Hunger Games. But what of Katniss? She is clearly the main character of the story, but Katniss' backstory is all but ignored; you are made aware of her family-life, having a sister and her need to help support the family but any sort of greater detail about this teen-girl is left out of the film. Small details come to light throughout but overall Katniss is left a character to watch, not one to emphasize with or necessarily root for because you know so little. Her more pacifist nature arouses great curiosity in the viewer, never knowing if she will break out of her contempt towards violence and join in on the games. This minor curiosity is no more than a deflection on the part of not knowing anything more about her, and the mystery this may have provided is never realized as their is no great twist or further development with Katniss. She is, and remains, the same one-dimensional character from beginning to end.
The other Tributes fair no better, and the relationship the film depends upon, between Peeta and Katniss, is abruptly created, and more so as an antagonistic relationship than one of a budding friendship. The would-be romance between the two works to convince the people of the Capitol; the viewer is well-aware there are drastic holes in the development between these two and their need to survive for one another a mere trick--and a trick Peeta is built up as being quite capable of with his untrustworthiness that is displayed time and again. As for the characters from the Capitol, like Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), Effie (Elizabeth Banks), Seneca (Wes Bentley), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and President Snow (Donald Sutherland), they are far more interesting in their bland representations because they are strange. They live in a world where each year they send children to die for sport, and enjoy the entire occasion. They are also self-absorbed and mischievous in their doings, where you never quite know what they will do or why they are doing something; be it to help a Tribute of cause a stir. The unfortunate truth is that all of these characters are not given the opportunity to be explored any further in the film. The possibilities are there, and small moments occur, but the cameras eye always falls back on Katniss, depriving the viewer of additional characters with which to take this dystopian journey.
Characters and relationships aside, the largest oversight in the screenplay for The Hunger Games is the lack of explanation. In a futuristic dystopian world the Hunger Games exist, and the small snippets of information given at the beginning of the film, and in a brief video shown during the reaping at District 12, do not actually explain anything about this alternate future world. The games are simple enough to understand, but the arena they take place...how is that conceived of and built? Is it always in the same place, or does it change? How large is it? Also, there is a consistent mention of "Sponsors," who are the sponsors and what role do they play? You understand that they deliver things to the Tributes but who are these people, how does the system work, and why is Haymitch, the mentor, capable of withholding items from a Tribute. Why would he want to? About the Districts, why are some more prosperous than others and if this is a utopian society (read communist), why are some people starving and others fit and healthy? What goes on in the Capitol?
The questions continue on and on in The Hunger Games, with no answers in sight. The film makes the assumption that its viewer has read the novel, if even the novel explains all of these details--one would surely hope so. The film neglects the casual would-be viewer who stumbles into The Hunger Games ready to embrace a new world; they will soon discover this new world is nothing more than a facade of something greater, something the filmmakers chose to ignore in lieu of more time in the arena, watching Katniss play hide-and-seek with other Tributes.
For a film surrounded by the imminent death of its characters, The Hunger Games has very little action. Prior to the games it is a story that nearly mocks the entire idea of the games themselves; the fancy costumes, showcasing of the Tributes by way of chariots in an amphitheater, or the very minimal amount of time spent during the training sessions for the Tributes, including Katniss, leads one to see the games as more of a spectacle showcasing the power of the Capitol than an actual competition built to find the strongest of the Nation.
When the games begin there is an initial fight between Tributes for resources at the cornucopia that is centered in the arena and contains useful items everyone wants, even if it means death just as quickly as the games begin. This scene shows enough of the violence to make the point that this is a fight to the death game, but because of the PG-13 rating there is creative editing employed so nothing too violent is shown. The Hunger Games continue, and without much excitement from an action standpoint. A great deal of time is spent by Katniss, as she is the character we as viewers follow throughout the film, meandering. Her time is not spent on the hunt but more of being hunted; this makes for a film full of hiding, running, and climbing trees for safety. It does not make for tribute-to-tribute fighting or any amount of heavy suspense. The fear a viewer should feel for Katniss is never created, and her hiding out is a great survival tactic; this tactic does not resonate well on the screen though as the long-time waiting for any amount of action to occur tests ones patience. When something does happen, for instance when the forest catches on fire and she is attacked by fireballs, the thrill is there, and just as quickly evaporates.
The Hunger Games is more about resourcefulness in the wild than fighting, or even savage violence. The need to survive is always evident, yet from the viewpoint of Katniss it is more about outlasting her competitors than killing them in order to win. She is not a fighter, nor does she want to kill. Other characters embody the savage element, and are just as swiftly not shown in their element. The cannon sounds when a Tribute has died, by whatever means; the actual deaths/or kills are not shown on screen--save for one or two. The expectation of grand fighting, or expert weaponry usage is not fulfilled in The Hunger Games. The majority of time is spent in waiting for Katniss, in wondering whether she will have to fight to be victorious or be able to outsmart the competition with her non-violent skills. Even the grand finale, perpetuated by Seneca Crane's need to present a climactic finish to the games, does not excite you with the action it is meant to pump into the story at this point. It is quick, lacking in build-up, and overall anti-climactic. The Hunger Games is not a movie to watch if action and suspense are desired.
March 23, 2012