The Hunger Games (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Hunger Games (2012)

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24 children crouched at the ready on little platforms and a serene looking environment in front of them marred by weapons laid out.  The countdown starts as the whole world watches, some with dread in their eyes.  As the countdown reaches zero the children begin a frenzy of blood and death: The Hunger Games have started.

After more than a year of hype and building interest in this adaptation of Suzanne Collins immensely popular book series, The Hunger Games has finally been released and it is almost everything that the fans could hope for in an adaptation.  Critically acclaimed director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) has created a movie that does not shield from the horrors of children battling to the death but also thankfully does not glorify the games and turn the movie into an action film built on bloodlust.  The Hunger Games is fine filmmaking indeed with very strong central performance from rising star Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone).

For those who have not read the series, The Hunger Games takes place in the distant future where America has been renamed Panem.  The country was divided into districts after an uprising against the capital.  The districts were bloodily put down and the Capital once again gained control.  To show their strength and to set an example, the Capital makes all 12 districts give one boy and one girl, from ages of 12 to 18, each year as a tribute to the Hunger Games, where the 24 will battle each other to the death on live TV until only one remains.

At the start of the film Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is trying to support her mom and sister in the very poor coal-mining District 12.  She sneaks out of the zone every day to hunt for food with her friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).  Yet today is not a typical day from the because it is the day of the reaping, the day the Hunger Games picks its tributes for that year's show.  Katniss’ little sister Prim is now old enough to have her name in the reaping and, sure enough, her name is the first one picked.

The dread on the little girls face is heartbreaking.  The district has become so beaten down by their way of life and these games that all the adults can do is to look away and keep quiet.  Katniss is different and can’t stand to see her sister go through this. She instead volunteers to take her place.  Along with the boy tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a boy who once took pity on her and gave her some bread from his parent’s bakery, she is escorted to the Capital to prepare for the games.

At the Capital things are much better for the citizens as they all seem to flaunt their riches in very unique ways, both in mannerism and style.  Here The Hunger Games are not seen as the worst days of the year but as entertainment, their very own version of a freshly premiering season of American Idol.  They love the pomp of the event, love seeing the story be told, and REALLY love betting on the event and being the only ones able to assist the poor children.

Soon Katniss and Peeta, with their mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) who's been the only victor ever from District 12, are preparing for battle.  Knowing that the people “want a good story”, the two tributes from District 12 play as star crossed lovers, doomed to never see their love reach a happy ending.  Katniss might be playing her part in the beginning but it is evident that Peeta truly does have these feelings and is almost ready to die for her to live.  Soon enough the Games start and Katniss has to use all of her strengths and intelligence just to survive.

Lets just get this out of the way right now, yes, this movie is based on a Young Adult book that is immensely popular and yes there are hints (and only hints) at a love triangle but that is where the comparisons STOP between this series and Twilight.  The story is about so much more than young love and hunky guys.  The themes versus the haves and have nots, living a life where you have no control and getting by day to day are things that most people living today can relate to.  The best sci-fi always creates a world that is vastly different than the present day but yet holds a mirror up to society to make them take a look at themselves on a deeper level.  The themes of reality vs. fabrication, what family means and the depths a person would do to protect their loved ones resonate with teenagers but also with adults.

The story and the themes would not matter in the least if the movie was not up to snuff, but thankfully that is far from the case.  Gary Ross, who also helped adapt the screenplay, understood what the story was and what it wasn’t very well and made a very lively adaptation.  It had a lot of heavy lifting to do with world building, but unlike the first Harry Potter film, it did not start to crack under this weight.   He establishes all the main people and places but much like the book keeps the momentum up at a quick clip.

Some of the scenes in the film are heartwrenching because no matter how well told the story is, it's hard to watch kids being hurt in any form.  I knew that the movie was in good hands with the mentioned, almost wordless scene of Prim being picked at the Reaping.  Ross did not sugarcoat this scene or tone it down, he just let it play as is.  Depending on the age of the viewer, it gives them time to think what they would do if that was their name called, or, if you were older, if it was your child’s.

Another wonderful scene was right before the Games start and you see Katniss preparing for what is about to come.  There is a feeling of dread so strong that I almost felt like it was smothering all in the audience and again he let this scene play out in its entirety, never letting the audience get a moments respite.

Finally, the strongest scene in the film that gave me goosebumps was the death of one of the tributes.  After reading the book this was the moment I was afraid of for the movie because it was a tricky and crucial moment.  It could have easily turned into something too showy but Ross handles it perfectly.  The way the scene ends is beautiful but VERY haunting and hard to watch.

The one complaint I have against the film was that it was shot in a shanky cam style.  Like I have repeatedly said before I hate this type of shooting/editing and want to follow what is going on in the movie and not get a headache.   Although I still HATE this style of filmmaking and it was annoying in this film I understand why they had to do it that way.  With this style you can not shy away from the brutality of the games but still get a PG-13 rating, which is two things the film needed to do.  Usually when a film would do this it would be bumped down a rating, but it gets a pass because of the necessity of the style in this particular story.

The direction and story might have been great but a third component was as crucial (if not more) to the success of The Hunger Games, and that is the performance of Jennifer Lawrence in the central role of Katniss.  I have been a big fan of the actress since her Oscar Nominated role in Winter’s Bone and never could imagine anyone else in this role, she just seemed to be Katniss.  My thoughts were 100% on the money and I do not believe there is a better person to play this role in all of Hollywood.

Katniss has to be tough, loving, smart, scared, determined, overwhelmed, compassionate and vicious all at the same time.The whole movie rests on her shoulders and if she would have performance would have rang hollow, the movie wouldn’t have worked.  Her performance was anything but hollow and it could be compared favorably to her work in Winter’s Bone.  All the feelings she had to feel were conveyed through few words but her body language and facial expressions.  Katniss is a person charismatic enough to start a revolution in the world and thanks to Lawrence’s performance, you not only believe it but also are ready to storm the castle yourself.

Fans of The Hunger Games did not need to read 1500 words to know that this is a wonderful and important story to tell.  All I have to say to them is you will be very pleased with this film it is everything to hope for.  For those who have never read it and are curious to find out what the hype is about, the movie is made well enough to stand out its own and is a very fine piece of filmmaking.  Thanks to the direction, story and acting, the odds were most definitely in The Hunger Games favor.

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Posted by Ryan

Comments (14) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Great review Ryan. This is a colorful and entertaining film, and I was constantly wrapped up in it as a drama. It isn’t the kind of bombastic event we usually get as a franchise blockbuster and for that I’m thankful. It also helps that the ensemble cast is nothing short of amazing either, and that Jennifer Lawrence’s career will hopefully totally hit super-start status after this because she’s great as well.

  2. Yep. This is definitely a movie based on a YA novel.

  3. Great Expectations was a Young Adult novel too. Edgar Allen Poe’s work was seen as fluff for the lowest common denominator. What I am saying is a great story is a great story no matter the label or genre you put on it. As a person that can see hidden meaning in Jack and Jill and Sucker Punch, I am surprised you didn’t see there was much more going on with the story that the base level of the film. Also, if you compare this film to Twilight I will scream.

    • Love triangle. Girl hunting in the woods. The woman as a hunter and the hunters as prey. High school resymbolized in a mythic structure. You’re right, nothing like Twilight.

      But it really, really reeks of simplistic metaphors, all ready for classroom discussion after the lights come up. There’s a lot going on, but it’s X-Men level ‘HERE’S WHAT WE REALLY MEAN’ stuff.

      It’s sad that a movie about teenagers killing each other is portrayed as slick as this one is, but this movie can’t even take its potent symbolism anything above the most banal level, so I can’t really be surprised it doesn’t succeed in either arena.

  4. Now I’m interested in seeing this even more since Danny used banal to describe it.

    • The symbolism is banal. In a visceral sense, the movie manages to be okay on occasion. If I’d reviewed it, it’d have gotten a pretty solid Indifference.

  5. I can understand being indifferent to a film, shoot, maybe it doesn’t work as well if you haven’t read the books, I just can’t get behind dismissing it as young adult fluff. Danny and I disagree with the comparison to Twilight but I would think we would have to agree that Hunger Games is saying much more than Romantic teen fantasies.

    • I don’t read enough romantic teen fantasies to properly comment on this.

      • I agree with both parties on this one. Everything Ryan noted I liked and Danny had all the same problems I had with it. The way I see it is the movie was split into two components: Inside the thunderdome and outside the thunderdome. There was, surprisingly, a fairly decent story inside the thunderdome. As Danny says: the symbolism here was overwhelmingly simplistic, but I don’ t think that really ruins it. The tension is still there and, as Ryan pointed out, the brutal child killing was focused on much less than the struggle and fear of being in a helpless situation. Now if that had been the only thing this movie was trying to sell that would have been awesome. This would have been my favorite movie.

        Which brings me to outside the thunderdome. Here’s where the movie failed overwhelmingly. It had a chance to do so much. It COULD have been classroom discussion worthy; It could have reminded us of the dehumanizing exploitation of media consumerism; it could have done some world building; it could have built conflicts between the outside characters; it could have hinted at deeper widespread political upheaval; but it didn’t do any of that. Aside from the beginning (which was probably one of the better done parts of the movie) any mention of the outside world was an attempt to quickly mention something that happened in the book and get back to the thunderdome.

        Okay so that’s upsetting but there’s no way to ruin what you have inside the thunderdome right?! Well I suppose not but, in my opinion, some of the tension went away when she found her love interest again. After that it felt like the movie was trying to move as quickly as it could to the finish line.

        Finish at an inappropriate ending that only serves to reassure fans that there will be another movie and scene.

        So while I agree with both parties I’m siding with Danny on this one. There were selling points but nothing really drove home.

  6. Also without a deeper story the teenager killing was quite pointless. It does explore the horror of turning kids on each other but only just barely. Actually slapping the teen romance in the middle of that is almost comedic – in a very twisted messed up sort of way.

  7. Thanks for you thoughts Nova. It is interesting to hear thoughts of people that didn’t read the book because it is hard to separate what they tell you in the movie from what you know because of a prior knowledge of the story. I still don’t see a big love triangle in this movie at all. She never pines for Gale or even mentions him after leaving for the Capitol and only uses Peeta’s affection while in the games to try to stay alive. In the Twilight films, the whole story revolves around her loving 2 guys, the story in Hunger Games is about survival for oneself and for family. I would compare it to Star Wars in terms of the love triangle, there might be the makings of one but it is not a very important part of the story. The same thing can’t be said for the next entry in the book series though so I will be curious to see if people change their mind about the love story in this movie when they can compare it to other parts.

  8. Oh yeah I don’t actually think the love triangle played that big of a role. There was once scene that hinted at it when they had a shot of the other dude but that was it. If only they had stayed inside the thunderdome for that part : (

    Also I don’t know how reading the book would have made me feel about this. There are adaptations that I like better than the books though. Especially when the book is a little bit long winded – for instance Lord of the Rings or A Game of Thrones. I even liked watchmen more than the comic. They cut all the stupid parts out. Admittedly the lead up didn’t make too much sense but whatever.

    I wish this movie had come out before the Golden Compass. It would have softened the blow and let them make it all the way to a cool cliff hanger.

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