Friday, March 23, 2012


Adapting a wildly popular novel for the big screen can be a tricky business; make too many alterations and deviations from the source material, and you’ve got a riot on your hands from the fans. Make too little changes, and you run the risk of alienating or confusing the broader audience who are unfamiliar with the book. It’s hard to tell which approach director Gary Ross took in his adaptation of THE HUNGER GAMES, but either way it’s a film that comes across as a mixed bag of light social commentary sprinkled with teen romance.

In the ruins of what was once North America, the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage (or younger) boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games; a twisted (and televised) punishment for a past uprising in which the teens must battle each other to the death. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers for the games in place of her chosen sister, and must compete against her friend (and love interest) Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

The concept of a society keeping order by having children fight each other to a bloody death is an extreme one, and tough to wrap your head around. Seemingly aware of this, Ross spends the entire first hour of the film exploring and developing the world that THE HUNGER GAMES exists in. A LOT of time is spent preparing for the games, and despite so much time being spent, it doesn’t feel like a whole lot is explained. Yes, we know that the games exist as some sort of punishment, but to what end? Not much time is spent fleshing out the concept behind kids killing each other, and without a connection to that it’s difficult to buy into the film as a whole. The first act drags on and on without answering the important questions and borders upon boring, and if you don’t capture your audience in the first act (or the first 15 minutes for that matter), you never will.

Once the games finally (and mercifully) begin, things pick up a little bit, but not enough. Despite alliances and friendships being formed and broken, there just isn’t much reason to care whether or not these damned brats live or die. The entire run feels glossed over; a film that is all about children dying ought to draw out a lot more emotion (and this draws none). To inject some heart, Ross forces a romance between Katniss and Peeta, which comes off as cheesy and eyeball-rolling. Ross also uses way too much shaky-cam here, which adds nothing to the mix.

The acting isn’t anything to write home about. It’s unclear whether or not Jennifer Lawrence was directed to play so uptight and wooden, but her acting here is as likeable as a plank. Woody Harrelson’s role as a comedic drunk is completely underutilized, and a wasted character in Toby Jones might as well have been a mute. Stanley Tucci hams it up as the play-by-play announcer, while Donald Sutherland manages to offer some grace and legitimacy to things. The most difficult task seemed to belong to Elizabeth Banks, who had to (decently) act her way beyond the (intentionally) ridiculous-looking pixie-doll costume and makeup she had to wear; looking very much like Johnny Depp in a Tim Burton film.

Fans of the book will likely enjoy seeing their beloved world and characters come to life on the big screen, and for them this is likely a treat. This Blogger’s theatre-audience seemed to be split down the middle; half of them were full of oooh’s and aaah’s, while the other half sat quietly trying to figure out what they were missing. Either way, a movie must be judged upon its own merits, and while THE HUNGER GAMES offers a few interesting ideas, there is overall not much to give a rat’s ass about.


1 comment:

  1. Great review Alan. 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. Check out my review when you can.


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