Review: The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games

May the odds be ever in your favor.

Adapting Suzanne Collin’s book, The Hunger Games is never as good as it could and really should be. Despite the hoopla over it, Gary Ross’ direction and co-writers Billy Ray and Collin’s script result in a sanitised version of the book.

The Hunger Games is a gladiatorial contest shown on television where each of the twelve districts ‘offers’ one male and female between the ages of 12 and 18. This acts as remembrance of the conflict that almost destroyed the nation of Panem and as a sign of The Capitol’s strength (think classically styled Rome).

During the reaping for the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen’s sister, Prim, is called out to be the district’s tribute; in an act of sacrifice Katniss volunteers in her place. She and fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcheson) will be up against 22 other competitors who will be vying to kill them.

I have bones to pick with this film so i’ll try to whittle down my grievances, but the film is a shadow of the book. It condenses and expands the games and roles of several characters but ultimately simplifies the source, stripping it of complexity and perhaps in its worst move, de-emphasises the violence on screen throughout. Violence shouldn’t be glamorized but it should go hand in hand with the point you’re making and I’m not sure what Gary Ross’ point is.

The first hour is okay, wasting little time in setting up Katniss and the world of District 12. It’s when the games start that the changes become apparent and few of them enhance the story.

A prime example is Donald Sutherland’s President Snow. His presence is felt but not really seen, padded out to give the viewer a villain it can heckle. It attempts to make the film accessible and softens its edges, distilling the viewers’ ire into one character instead of the Capitol and its people.

Its lack of complexity stretches to its characters, who aren’t given the depth they deserve. The film is told from Katniss’ perspective but rarely questions her hypocritical stance on murder. The other contestants are thin, barely glimpsed and lucky to get a word in. The career districts are turned into cackling villains, stripped of their humanity, the film asking the audience to take sides, which turns a moral grey area into an easier to digest black and white one.

I haven’t even started on the shaky cam aesthetic. The effect of the contestant deaths has (rightly or wrongly) been reduced so you can’t tell what’s going on. Imagine your older sibling holding their hands over your eyes when you were kid and that’s the exact effect Tom Stern’s cinematography has here.

What’s good about The Hunger Games? Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is good (not phenomenal, just good) guiding the viewer through a world that’s strange and, at times, threatening. However, while her version of Katniss may not have the constant anxiety, paranoia and indecision her literary counterpart has.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinkett is spot on, her gaudy appearance and optimistic attitude a sign of just how far removed the Capitol is from reality. The same applies for Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman. Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’ stylist Cinna has a few moments; Harrelson’s Haymitch is not quite the boorish malcontent he is in the book.

Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is on the periphery and Josh Hutcheson’s Peeta is a character whose head you never really get into. The same goes for the relationships in the film: the book pads them out, here the film races through, giving few reasons to be emotionally invested in the outcome of anybody.

The Hunger Games loses a lot of the complexities and Orwellian mood the book evoked. I’m genuinely surprised at the praise that’s received. Whether you’re an avid reader of the books or someone completely fresh to it, The Hunger Games never really suffices as an intelligent adaptation. Disappointing.

5/10

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Posted on 30/03/2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I’m glad someone pointed that out that you never learnt why they are called the hunger games. I thought they did a pretty good job. I was worried they’d make the love triangle more soppy with Katniss really falling for Peeta but I though they handled that aspect well. Wish they’d gone for slightly more violence though. And I thought the padding of President Snow was quite good. Sutherland was good and it sets up the next books better, Nice review, shame you didn’t like it more!

    • It was quite surprising that they omitted the meaning of the name. I guess my main disappointment is the changes they made to make it seem more palatable for an audience, it made difficult source material a little too easy to enjoy. And the ‘romance’ between Peeta and Katniss is a another odd choice in terms of what was in the book. As an adaptation I don’t think it works as well as the book. If i hadn’t read the books beforehand I might have enjoyed more!

  2. sanclementejedi

    Spot on review my friend. Sacrificing what made the novels entertaining to get a lower rating and more $$$ hurt this film immensely. Perhaps ditching Ross for the next installment will help out the films. At least perhaps their will not be so much shaky cam.

    Enjoyed checking out your blog.

    • Not sure if the sequels will be better if this is the tact they take with the violence and characterisation. The number of characters and level of violence goes up so I’m not expecting a radical depature, especially when it’s raking money in

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