There has been a lot of speculation, expectation, and hype for the long-awaited The Hunger Games movie premiere. Some critics have celebrated the film and others have been quick to point out the film’s flaws. With all of the excitement it is almost impossible to leave The Hunger Games fully satisfied, but Hollywood gives it a valiant effort.
After several threats from my older sister, I finally read all three books of the Suzanne Collins’s trilogy, making sure to finish well ahead of the movie release. I am glad I did, because it seems as though some of the critics have not read the books. In this movie’s case, knowing the material ahead of time provides a richer experience.
Set in a dystopian, apocalyptic future where North America no longer is North America but instead Panem, a collection of districts ruled by the cruel hand of the dictatorial Capitol. Every year the apathetic Capitol commands one girl and one boy from each district to compete in what is called the hunger games, a fight to the death where only one child will survive. Katniss Everdeen sacrifices herself for her younger sister when Prim is selected as one of the competitors. What is striking about these novels is the author’s fearlessness and ambition, as she captures a wide foray of human themes, from betrayal to resilience with a heroine that is both vulnerable and fierce. Humanity drives The Hunger Games, an anti-war novel, from start to finish.
That said, The Hunger Games is a big load to carry. Subtlety seems to be director Gary Ross’s forte. That is both a positive and negative for the film. With a PG-13 rating and a tricky subject matter, being subtle is a good choice in the scenes of the games. However, Ross’s filmmaking style detracted when it is flitting back and forth to different places and is literally shaky. Ross seems to be going for grit, but The Hunger Games could actually use more punch.
Some parts of the film are too subdued. Avid fans will be upset that some details are changed, including who gives Katniss the mockingjay pin. The garish Capitol is not so garish in the film. It is understandable that the designers of the film did not want to go too over-the-top with the costumes but Katniss is supposed to be “on fire” after all. In addition, the special effects are also not impressive.
The Hunger Games has an outstanding cast. Jennifer Lawrence is strong as the lead. Lawrence has quite a lot to take on as such a beloved heroine. She captures the fierceness (as she did in Winter’s Bone wonderfully) but perhaps is a bit too stoic. Maybe Lawrence could have used a little more vulnerability to let us know what Katniss is thinking, as we are unable to look into her mind as we are in the first-person novel. Woody Harrelson is excellent as Haymitch, Katniss’s mentor in the games, and Lenny Kravitz brings gravity to the film as Cinna, a supporter of Katniss. Rue is beautifully played by the young Amandla Stenberg. In fact, the reaping and the scenes with Rue are the most touching of the entire film.
Elizabeth Banks plays the funny, silly Effie perfectly and Stanley Tucci is also great as the amusing Caesar Flickerman. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta and Liam Hemsworth as Gale (both in love with Katniss) are also very good. A weak link unfortunately is Donald Sutherland as who should be the evil, snake-like President Snow. Sutherland comes off neither sinister nor frightening. He is not able to capture what Ralph Fiennes was able to when he played Voldemort in the Harry Potter films.
Overall, The Hunger Games is done well and tries to stay as true to the book as it can. Hopefully, the second installment will be even better as the filmmakers learn what worked and what did not. Perhaps with the second installment they can capture and stress more the urgency of the work’s main theme, that against all odds we must never lose sight of our humanity.
(The soundtrack that has been released is sadly and surprisingly not used in the film. “Safe and Sound” could have worked well. Here it is, Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift Feat. The Civil Wars.)