I haven’t read any of the uber-popular Hunger Games books by young adult author Suzanne Collins, but I have read a lot of the hype building up to the theatrical release of this film that is based on the first story in the three-book series. Some would have you believe that this film is the best thing to happen since sliced bread (or moldy oven-roll – in keeping with the movie) but unless you are a forgiving fan of the source material you’re going to leave this movie with an empty feeling in your cinematic stomach.
If you are well-versed with the books then there are probably a lot of gaps in the plot of the movie that you can easily fill in, but if you are uninitiated like myself, the story involves a group of poor kids that are brought together to fight each other to the death in a futuristic reality television show called “The Hunger Games.” This annual event is put on for the amusement of an upper-class society that views this sacrifice of the poor as a “tribute” of some kind to pay for some wrong they feel was committed against them. The last person alive wins “something” that I’m not certain of and that the film does not make clear. I’m assuming it’s food of some sort for the victor’s family, hence the title, but it is never made clear what the goal is beyond simple survival and being able to go back home.
This post-apocalyptic world is divided into districts and the teenage children of each section are placed into a lottery where one boy and one girl are drawn to represent their area in the Hunger Games. District 12 appears to be set in a coal-mining area in the Appalachian Mountains where a young woman, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), keeps her family alive by bow hunting for wildlife beyond the border of her not-so-well fenced community. When the “tribute” lottery takes place and Katniss’ young sister is selected, the older sibling volunteers to take her place, and together with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) she is off to the “Capitol” to be prepped for the games by previous winner Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and a Hunger Games “producer” of some sort named Cinna (Lenny Kravitz).
What follows is a manufactured romance between Katniss and Gale and a series of combat training and game ceremonial sequences that range from cartoonish to just plain boring, and once the “games” actually begin the film becomes a cross between Stephen King’s The Running Man (or The Long Walk) and Lord of the Flies, but with more deus ex machina moments than you can shake a stick at – if that stick appeared at just the precise moment that stick-shaking was needed.
Donald Sutherland plays the “President” of the Capital who tries to quell an uprising of Katniss supporters and although he simply phones in a performance, he at least kept his dignity by not allowing his character to be “clowned-up” like the rest of the upper-society cast in this movie. What brought on this version of the future is never really explained, but however it all went down; the victors were obviously fans of Lady Gaga and Devo as it looks like everyone in the wealthy-class got their fashion sense from these pre-war icons. So not having to look like a fashion-freak is ONE THING the poor have going for them in this future world.
I have not seen the movie Battle Royale but it is rumored that the entire Hunger Games story is a rip-off of this Japanese book & movie. But beyond its obvious lack of originality the biggest problem with this film is the convoluted plot twists. Just when you think you know the rules governing this world the writer/writers change them up to the point of absurdity. It would be easy to really rant on some of the pointless plot turns in this movie, but to say too much would be to spoil some surprises – but to be clear; these out-of-the-blue twists will likely leave you scratching your head in bewilderment.
Although this movie is being marketed towards a wide audience, The Hunger Games IS a young adult film based on young adult books, so maybe it was because of the toned-down violence or the constant contrived “saves” for the heroine, but I never really felt like young Ms. Everdeen was ever in any real danger. Actress Jennifer Lawrence delivers a decent enough performance, so I lay the blame here on the writers (including book author Suzanne Collins) and director Gary Ross (see Pleasantville). The acting of the supporting cast in this film ranges from mediocre at best to really not very good at all.
Another major issue with this movie is the poor editing. There are several spots when this film jumps from one place to another with no logical transition whatsoever. At times I questioned if I had fallen asleep and missed something, which at points would be easy to do with this movie, but I am confident I kept my eyes open for the whole thing. There are simply gaps in time and place, sometimes even in night and day, that leave you completely baffled.
Part of the problem may be that the “coliseum” where the Hunger Games take place is some sort of computer controlled forest environment where the lighting can be adjusted and there are cameras everywhere. Fire, genetically altered hornets and large angry dogs are created out of thin air at the behest of television producers, and these are not just holograms or illusions, but real physical things that are somehow created on the fly. Don’t ask how.
So is there anything good to say about The Hunger Games? I honestly do feel bad for being so harsh, because I love the fact that these stories have encouraged thousands of young people and even some adults to read, and that is a truly great thing. I also love the fact that the heroine of The Hunger Games is a strong woman of good moral character that young girls can look up to – we need more of that. But I know that there is nothing I could say in this review that is going to keep a fan from seeing this movie and I’m certain it is going to be a huge success with its built-in target audience of young adults. But for movie fans in general, The Hunger Games is nothing more than a poorly executed rehash of a half-dozen other films, some not necessarily any better, but I can’t think of any that were worse.