THE HUNGER GAMES

BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
MARCH 15, 2012

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

Red flag number one keeping me from reading the series is the ever-changing rules of the Games. That may be a minor issue to take up 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 murder one another without adding extraneous elements to the mix? Is it vital for the creators to intentionally set the forest on fire in an attempt to kill off one of the twenty-four combatants? My biggest complaint is the continuously changing number of winners. The Games allows 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 to iron out before I can take it seriously. 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 used effectively throughout the film, certain conventions appear sporadically. For example, a bland love story builds between characters Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). When they kiss in front of the cameras, there is an immediate cut to Katniss’ love interest, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), 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 entirely displeasing. Behind its PG-13 facade, the film serves as a decent thriller. Had the film jumped fully onboard with an R rating, it would have been much more intense and memorable. Instead, we gloss over deaths, the hard facts are sugar-coated, and what’s left is 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 does so perfectly. Compared to these much more adult roles, however, she takes a step down to play Katniss, with a minimal allowance of character depth. She remains straight-faced and stoic throughout and, due in part to the childish nature of the film, cannot deliver the driving performance that we 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 drunken state and stand-offish demeanor prevent him from performing these duties. His change of heart remains one of the film’s best parts, as he scrambles to get Katniss sponsors and keep her alive while in the Games. Alongside exaggerated performances from Elizabeth Banks and Wes Bentley, Harrelson’s low-key acting and signature rough-guy-with-a-smile attitude 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 leaves a smoke screen over the content, making sure that everybody has a “good” time, but no one, no matter what the age, has a particularly “great” time. With my interest piqued for the next film, I will be hard-pressed to continue past that installment if it suffers in the same way as “The Hunger Games.”

RELEASE DATE
March 23, 2012

DIRECTOR
Gary Ross

WRITTEN BY
Suzanne Collins
Gary Ross
Billy Ray

BASED ON
“The Hunger Games”
by Suzanne Collins

STUDIO
Lionsgate

PG-13
(for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens)

ACTION
ADVENTURE
SCI-FI
THRILLER

142 minutes

CINEMATOGRAPHER
Roberto Schaefer

COMPOSER
Antonio Pinto

EDITOR
Thomas J. Nordberg

CAST
Jennifer Lawrence
Josh Hutcherson
Liam Hemsworth
Woody Harrelson
Elizabeth Banks
Lenny Kravitz
Stanley Tucci
Donald Sutherland
Wes Bentley
Toby Jones
Isabelle Fuhrman
Amandla Stenberg
Jack Quaid
Willow Shields

PRODUCED BY
Nina Jacobson
Jon Kilik

BUDGET
$78 million

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