The Hunger Games (2012) Film Review, a movie directed by Gary Ross and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Isabelle Fuhrman, Amandla Stenberg, Willow Shields, Alexander Ludwig, Toby Jones, Wes Bentley, and Jacqueline Emerson.
The pessimistic, post future war world of The Hunger Games is a society in which its subjects are reminded year after year of their failed rebellion, a drill bit that never ceases to penetrate.
The hard lives of the District residents are shown in a series of dystopian Norman Rockwell-like images (think the beginning of Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition), living conditions where luxuries like running water and internal plumbing are non-existent. The District residents live a rural existence but its harshness is not quite conveyed as completely as it was in John Hillcoat’s The Proposition.
This hard life has made its residents hard as well. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)’s leadership in her household has only one scene but it speaks volumes, as similar scenes did involving Mattie Ross in Joel Coen and Ethan Coen’s True Grit. The pitch and tenor of her admonishments and commands to her mother (Paula Malcomson) would have been that much louder and fulfilling had an actress delivered them the actual age of the character in the source material but that is quibbling and now moot. It delivered its intended effect.
The juxtaposition from rural to opulence is instant when the tributes enter the train that will take them to the Capital. The subfused shock is all over Katniss’s face (we live in squalor while you live in all this) yet she never says anything nor reacts to it. Even then she is focused on her goal: return to Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields), her sister, and take care of her.
Katniss’ Hunger Games’ mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woodey Harrelson) is a drunk (possibly trying to avoid the inevitable: the statically probability that his two charges will die and that he is powerless to do anything about it) but is not unskilled. When Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) gets out of line, Haymitch’s foot comes up swiftly, penning him to his chair. It was a subtle example of muscle memory and reflex, an offensive reflex still sharp, though it has been decades since Haymitch won The Hunger Games.
Though the script has cleverness (e.g. the above paragraph), its translation to the screen was not without flaws. The fire suit, chariot scene after Katniss and Peeta reach the Capitol was the worse use of CGI in the entire film. The flames looked like they had been created on a computer from the 1980’s or on the community computer for District 12 that pre-dated the rebellion. Thankfully this type of ocular tragedy is never seen again in the film.
The rain/bread flashback scenes were also a weakness as the circumstances around them are never established. I am guessing this is more of a highlight from the book, one not fleshed out completely in the film. Are people starving in District 12 and in the other Districts? It is never shown, their hard lives are glimpsed but starvation is not. These flashbacks may have been meant as an indicator of this but they lacked substance.
The main substance of The Hunger Games is the arena and everything that leads up to the battles it houses. If the viewer has not read the book, they will be surprised at the small details that make the pre-arena and arena battles more intricate: being a good killer does not mean you will win The Hunger Games. Being socialable and charismatic before The Hunger Games begin are just as valuable skills, if not more so.
On the first day of The Hunger Games, the viewer can see how shaky Katniss is a minute before she enters the arena. She is scared and the audience is trepidatious for her. Its palpable, its good.
When the Games begin, the viewer will be surprised at the amount of violence and on-screen blood (not even a one hundredth of the slaughter on-screen in Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale) for a PG-13 film but maybe not that surprised if they have seen what was left of Frodo’s finger after Smeagol bit it off in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of The King. If that was allowed on-screen without an R-rating, the violence in The Hunger Games getting the PG-13 pass is completely understandable.
Many twists and turns await Katniss Everdeen in the 74th Hunger Games, events that bolster the film and its tension. One of the most unlikely of these is the use of sponsors and their gifts. Haymitch Abernathy going to work as Everdeen’s advocate was one of the highlights of the arena sequences not to mention how resourceful Everdeen was, employing old hunter and soldier techniques to feed, hide, and defend herself. Suzanne Collins, writer of the book this film is based on and co-writer of the screenplay, certainly did her homework on forest and jungle survival.
Peeta camouflaging himself was clever but smile-inducing in the way it was portrayed. His camouflage is so intricate as opposed to John J. Rambo’s full body mud camouflage in Rambo: First Blood: Part 2. The viewer has to ask how Peeta could so perfectly apply that camouflage without a mirror. Water is a poor reflective surface and since he had no backpack, it is doubtful he had a mirror.
Outside of survival techniques and the arena, there is also a growing political concern as the 74th Hunger Games progresses, making the on-goings three layers deep: the games, the viewers/sponsors, and the overseers/people behind-the-scenes. Nothing trumps the first layer at anytime during the film, if anything, the other layers add to it.
With all of these elements working in favor of the film, the tension in the first two acts alleviates its hold on the audience within the third act. It can be felt. It is right around the time Katniss wakes up from an extended period of sleep.
Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games is a film far better than the viewer may be expecting. When compared against David Fincher’s film adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, neither film is imbued with powerful finales but Fincher’s is far weaker than Ross’. The Hunger Games was made to entertain and it does so. Whether it was made for us to question war, society, the future, political reality versus fiction, and other issues, The Hunger Games only bounces off the surface of them like a racket ball against a hard surface, never penetrating beneath. James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta film adaptation attempted similar feats but only Michael Radford’s 1984 achieved some of them. Whether The Hunger Games is a good adaptation I cannot say since I have not it yet read it. This film adaptation did achieve something ancillary though: it makes the viewer want to read the books just to see what happen next.