Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review - The Hunger Games

In a dystopian future where the Capitol selects two tributes from twelve districts to play in a annual game that sees tributes fight to the death, a sister sacrifices herself in the place of her younger sibling who is chosen and then propelled into the games.

Next to remakes, sequels, and prequels finding the next popular Young Adult series and turning it into a profitable movie franchise is Hollywood's bread and butter these days. For every Harry Potter or Twilight there is a Vampire's Assistant or Percy Jackson. Finding the right series to roll with could be gamble but Lionsgate took that chance on a series that had all the makings of a potential hit. Writing this review post release I have the comfort of knowing that Lionsgate's gamble was a good one. The studio has made a bundle on the film, will continue to profit on a property that has plenty of awareness and word of mouth that has been mainly positive. For myself I come down in the positive camp but there are a number of issues I took with film. 

Means of control is something that has always fascinated me so from the onset I was immediately intrigued by the setup. A dystopian future where twelve districts succumb to giving up two teenagers per year as sacrifice or tribute is a scary future to say the least. A society that can control its citizens into willingly giving up their lives is remarkable. This concept is however not really elaborated on in the film. The audience knows it is happening and has happened for nearly 80 years but what got them to this state is lacking. A backstory is quickly glossed over in a short film that is shown annually at the Reaping ceremony or tribute selection. The film serves as a reminder to the citizens up for tribunal but it doesn't give the audience any real sense of why so many people put up with the illusion of protection. The audience understands it is a generational custom that the people have learned to accept and not question but I craved just a bit more background on the means which led to the state they are currently in.

One reason what I craved is not in "The Hunger Games" is because this only the first book or potential film of three. This story is more fixated on telling a different angle than the means of control. Instead it is focused on setting up our heroine, Katniss Everdeen and her emotional weight. An angle the Gary Ross directed feature excels at. As an outsider with little background on these books I expected the games to be a much bigger portion of the film. While the games are prominently featured, the core of who Katniss is and what she is struggling with is far more on display than the games. For instance, like a reality series, the tributes or contestants are looking for the audience to support them. The audience can play a small part in the tributes surviving the game. For Katniss this angle of the game is a struggle. She's never had to play a part in order to win appreciation and she really doesn't want to.

Jennifer Lawrence deserves a ton of accolades for her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen. She is spot-on as a character that could very easily become a martyr to her people. As Katniss, Lawrence conveys a range of emotions that the novel conveyed mainly through narration. Lawrence is able to not only carry the weight of the film but make the audience a believer in her. Like the audience Katniss is working within the story, Lawrence works the audience watching as the games unfold. You route her on through all of the ups and downs as they come at her.

Before seeing this movie, I never put any thought into the title "The Hunger Games." During and after watching however I wondered, where the hell is the hunger? Sure we are told that District 12 is the poorest district and there is mention of how little food there is, but saying it is only part of making that perception come to a reality. Having spoken with fans of the books, I know that hunger plays a huge part in the story but here in the first film, we never feel any sense of true hunger from our characters.

Annual games must also be touched on. Like I have previously mentioned I respect that the games are not heavily featured. Not in a sense that they are not shown or covered, because the games are truthfully the entire second half of the movie, but the games are merely the setting. The games are not as important as what is happening while the games take place. It is what the audience is seeing and what they are learning about the contestants or tributes that make the games so important. Director Gary Ross puts just enough gratuitous violence on display but wisely never revels in it. Instead he focuses on the human levels. The games are only a small part of what keeps public under control in the fascist government depicted and you realize that watching.

Walking away from "The Hunger Games" I was enamored with the future I was exposed to. Unfortunately, the exposure left me with loads of questions. Questions that the film did not answer. Some of those questions may have been answered had I read the book going in, but a film should be able to stand on its own without the audience having to have read before going in. I've since purchased the trilogy and intend to read through the series before the sequel(s) hit theaters but because I want to eat up any and every piece of this concept that I can.

Overall "The Hunger Games" is a well put together adaptation of a novel. It has its faults and it misses some important threads but more importantly it lays the foundation in all the right places to hook audiences that are receptive to seeing where this bleak future is headed. It is a film that can be related to our history and to our present. It is a topic that should strike chords within people. It is also a film that could reach a younger audiences and open them up to something they may have shrugged off in a history class or trigger something within them that may get them active in our own government. "The Hunger Games" can be a lot of things because it works on a variety of levels, at its core it has a one genuine dynamic that works incredibly well, humanity.