Saturday, March 24, 2012
The Hunger Games - Movie Review
As always, this will likely be a shorter review, as I'm going to try to avoid spoilers as much as I can. Also, as someone who has not read the books, I won't be doing any comparisons between the two or complaining about stuff left out. Although, I will say that after watching The Hunger Games, I'm interested in reading them and that's a good thing.
Set in the distant future, how distant I don't think was stated in the movie, The Hunger Games are about a society that developed after some kind of uprising or war. The victor of this conflict is now an elite class. They live in a completely different world as far as luxury and technology and rule over the lower classes. The losing side was divided up into different districts to be what appeared be worker classes for the elite class. They live in broken down houses, dress like they are from the 1800's, and always seem to be on the verge of starvation. The elite class look like something out of a Katy Perry video.
To commemorate this failed uprising, each year two teens from each District are picked to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to death where only one comes out alive. The winner is promised fame and fortune. From District 12, you have Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers when her younger sister is initially picked, and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). One thing that doesn't seem to have changed in the future is giving kids weird names. Katniss and Peeta, and Peeta is a boy's name? When pronounced in the movie it sounds more like 'Peter', but seeing Peeta on paper looks like a girls name to me.
Anyway, after being picked, they are groomed and trained by several people who explain to them that the best way to win is get sponsors, who can send you aid during the games. This leads the characters to do things down the line that they do more to appease the audience watching, than out of their own desires. After a short time of training, they are thrown into the Games, which are supposed to last about two weeks, unless someone kills everyone else first.
The Hunger Games is a slow burn. It takes a bit to get out of the gate, but they use that time effectively to establish the leads and the world they live in. Once it really gets going, I got lost in the movie. You really feel the tension once the Games begin.
What makes The Hunger Games stand out is it's successful balance of so many different elements. You have a little bit of class warfare, a dystopian future, reality TV and even a love triangle. Plus, you have a strong central character in Katniss. What I liked about Katniss is that despite the events around her, she felt very grounded in reality and willing to do whatever it takes to win.
I do have some minor complaints about the film though...
I didn't mind the shaky cam work when there was running, but there's a particular scene where there are lots of close cuts and you really can't see what's going on. You know what's happening, but I think it would have had more of an impact if you could truly see the brutality of it. I understand they likely had to tame things down to have a PG-13 rating and reach a broader audience. Considering how brutal I heard the books were, I was just kind of surprised they didn't go for it a little more.
I would have liked to see a little more development of some of the other kids involved in the Games. I don't know if they were fleshed out in the book, but when these kids die, it would have more of an impact if you actually knew something about them or had a reason to care. In the movie some of these kids feel disposable because of that. It's similar to the whole 'Red Shirt' thing where the character that gets no screen time, dialog or character development is probably going to be the one to die first.
Also, it felt like there were many things about the world that were glossed over or barely explained for the sake of time. I know not all the details from the book can make it into the movie, but I just would have like a little more explanation of a few things. It didn't ruin my enjoyment of the film though, as it didn't cause me to be confused about character motivation or the basic plot (I'm looking at you John Carter). These minor details are something that I hope might be fleshed out in an extended or director's cut. At 2 hours and 22 minutes, I don't mind a few things being cut here and there so I'm not the theater for 3 hours, but I wouldn't mind a longer version once it hits Blu-Ray/DVD.
The ending was a little flat and felt like too obvious of a setup for a sequel. This is clearly going to get one at this point, but making a movie assuming there will be a sequel can sometimes undermine the storytelling and having a self-contained movie.
As far as comparisons go, I felt there was a lot of The Truman Show in here, more than it was like The Running Man (although there are comparisons there as well). I actually thought the way the story was told and the pacing actually reminded me of A New Hope in that you spend a good portion of the movie getting to know Katniss before stuff really starts to happen.
The performances are great, but this is Jennifer Lawrence's film. There are many times in the movie where the look on her face tells you everything you need to know about how she's feeling at that moment. It was very effective. I enjoyed a lot of the supporting roles. Elizabeth Banks was unrecognizable, but funny. Stanley Tucci looks like he had a lot of fun playing the blue-haired TV host. I got a kick out of Woody Harrelson as their mentor as well. The guy that actually surprised me the most was Lenny Kravitz. While, he only plays a style consultant, I felt like he cared very much about Katniss. He gave a pretty good performance, for a musician. Liam Hemsworth (Thor's brother), the forgotten man in the love triangle between him, Katniss and Peeta, seemed underused as far as making for an effective love triangle. Perhaps this was explained better in the book or is expanded on in the sequels.
With so much going on here, I am impressed they managed to make it work. I credit the direction of Gary Ross for successfully pulling it off. He shared writing credits with Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins, who was also the writer of the novels. I think in this case, having her involved in the screenplay was a smart choice. Another cool thing, and maybe this was me, but I felt like the movie's score was very sparse. They let the characters and situations speak for themselves, rather than manipulate you with a sweeping score.
Overall, I thought The Hunger Games was a very entertaining movie. It struck a good balance of action, emotion and even social commentary. It's a little more mature than your typical 'young adult' movie, and because of that I think it has a very broad appeal. I strongly recommend checking it out this weekend.
3.5 (out of 5) Death Stars.