Preface: I have not read any of the books that this film is based on, so this review is an unbiased one of the movie itself, and not a comparison of the film to the book.
The Hunger Games, based on the book of the same name, is the latest book series to make the transition to the big screen. Though fairly epic in scale, it has a relatively small cast, but one with several surprisingly large stars. Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Stanley Tucci are among the more recognizable actors to star.
The film takes place in an unspecified future, where many of the North American nations (including the United States) no longer exist, replaced by a nation called Pan-Em. It’s not clear exactly what timeframe the movie occurs, but it’s clear that technology has advanced by the visuals in the movie.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen, a resourceful young woman from District 12 of Pan-Em. When her younger sister is selected as the district’s ‘tribute’, Katniss volunteers herself, in order to save her sister. So begins her journey as she must take part in the ‘Hunger Games’, which pits her against 23 other children in a fight for survival; the last person alive wins the Hunger Games, and becomes a celebrity for their district.
Though the film doesn’t take a lot of time to explain this world in which Katniss lives, or the events that have led to the situation viewers are thrust into, it still does an admirable job of explaining what is happening. A video describes what the Hunger Games are about, and why they are held each year. The books provide much more detail about the backstory of this world, but the film still holds its own and makes no apologies for not revealing these details.
It’s a dystopian story, in which the ultra-rich live in pure decadence, while the ‘districts’ live hard lives, and struggle to survive while providing the upper-class with everything they need to live a carefree and spoiled life. It’s clearly a comparison of today’s dichotomy of rich vs. poor, and though exaggerated, isn’t that far-fetched.
As Katniss is prepared for her journey in the Hunger Games, she struggles with trying to appear friendly and popular, in order to gain ‘sponsors’, which may help save her life during the Games. Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent job portraying Katniss, especially just before the Games begin. The subtle, but overwhelming shaking she portrays captures the nervousness and terror she must surely be feeling just prior to the start of the Games. The rest of the characters do a reasonable job, and the acting is adequate, though not necessarily Oscar-worthy. Probably the best job–other than Lawrence as Katniss–is Lenny Kravitz’ role, as a friend to Katniss, who helps her prepare for her role in the Games. Woody Harrelson also does a good job being the snide, but eventually helpful mentor.
The film is a fairly straight-forward progression, with no real twists or turns to lend further drama to it. Still, it’s an amazingly complex world, with an imaginative story that entertains. The directing and cinematography is good, but not noticeably above-average. The highest praise could be for the fact that nothing stands out as particularly distracting. This film doesn’t try to be super-artistic, or artsy in the way it’s presented, and that’s a good thing. The only criticism is the use of ‘handheld’ camera effects, lending the shaky, motion-sickening feeling to certain parts of the film. It’s used especially during the fighting sequences, but it’s more to make the fights appear more violent than the actors can actually portray them than for any other reason.
The Hunger Games is a relatively long movie, at 2 hours, 22 minutes, and it feels long, but not in a bad way. Viewers are quickly pulled into the film, and are never really let go. There are no extended scenes that grow boring or tiresome, and a fine balance is struck between explanation, and actual events occurring. There are a few brief scenes where some of the backstory is filled in, but there really aren’t any long scenes of exposition, where things need to be explained. This is no “Inception”, which helps move things along.
Fans of both the books, and of interesting and involving plots should be more than satisfied with The Hunger Games. It’s a good film, with an engaging story, solid acting, and bright visuals. Putting aside the idea of kids killing kids, it’s a story with points to make, and well worth the trip to theaters.
– Reviewed by Bradley K. Brown