The Hunger Games

The beginning of The Hunger Games could be lifted directly from Jennifer Lawrence’s other movie Winter’s Bone. In both she plays a strong-willed young woman saddled with the responsibility of looking after her younger siblings in a desolate, poverty-stricken region and makes a personal sacrifice to save them. In Winter’s Bone, she’s looking for her ne’er-do-well father (and sometime meth dealer) to save the family home from being forfeited.  In The Hunger Games, she takes her sister’s place in a televised twenty-four person fight to the death.

It’s a pleasant surprise that Gary Ross was chosen to direct this film. He’s not exactly known for blockbusters or action films – unless you count Seabiscuit, Pleasantville, or Big as falling into one of the two – but for making moving comedy-dramas that place character above all else. It was a risky gamble for Lionsgate to take considering that hiring a critically-acclaimed director not known for summer tentpole movies can either end up as a fiasco* (i.e. Quantum of Solace) or a masterpiece (Batman Begins). The Hunger Games settles comfortably in between the two – never quite transcending the source material but being a competent and well-rounded film that mixes equal parts action and character development.

The best part about the film is that it doesn’t get endlessly bogged down explaining the minutiae of why the Games exist and the nefarious political plotting behind the scenes. There’s really only a handful of short scenes that imply the origin of the Games (mainly through a short clip about a historical botched revolution that the Games are meant to memorialize with symbolic, albeit real, bloodshed) and the ulterior motive for continuing them (something something stop people from uprising). Without having read it, I know that the book goes into more detail than that about the Games and it’s probably a central piece of the story (though let’s not have this argument again), but these brief sequences are all the film needs to get the viewer up to speed while respecting our intelligence and keeping the pace at a strong clip.

What’s incredible about this film (to me) is that it’s marketed to teens. It’s quite brutal in its depiction of children murdering one another – even if it lacks the copious amounts of blood that would give it an R rating – and it’s essentially Battle Royale lite (a film that was banned in many countries for an essentially similar storyline – a class of schoolchildren battling to the death). It’s not that I have a problem with teens watching these types of films (I saw enough Arnold Schwarzenegger films as a precocious youngster and it did me no harm) but I’m intrigued that this is a young adult series that hasn’t earned the same sort of backlash from concerned children’s groups as Harry Potter did. I guess practicing witchcraft and wizardry is more morally corrupting than battling to the death.

The Hunger Games is an enjoyable and suspenseful blockbuster with great performances by all the actors, solid action sequences, and an adaptation that doesn’t get bogged down with all the extraneous details about the story and commits to delivering the core essence – staying alive and staying human in a cold and unyielding world.

Grade: B+

*I use the term “fiasco” loosely – Quantum of Solace is the second highest grossing Bond film (Casino Royale is the first) but it was a major disappointment with incoherent action scenes, a convoluted plot about controlling a country’s water supply, and one of the series’ least memorable or threatening villains.

Sidenote: Liam Hemsworth is apparently one of the leads of the film – at least that’s what the coverage in the media makes it seem like. He’s in a total of…maybe five minutes.

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One Response to The Hunger Games

  1. julia Turnbull says:

    Excellent review, as always. I actually saw the movie this week with Veronica and the Leong boys in Palm Springs. It had me in a state of tension the entire time!

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