I am pretty content with the fact I am a small guy. That’s why I thank God every day we don’t live in a world like in “The Hunger Games.” My fate would be quick and brutal, similar to the ones of the impeubesents in the film.
But, thankfully, I get to stay in my secluded theater and do the work of a coward: judge.
“The Hunger Games” is the first of a trilogy based of a series of books by Suzanne Collins. The story involved a girl named Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteering in place of her sister as one of the two people selected from her district to take place in the annual Hunger Games. The games themselves involved 24 tributes ranging in age from 12–18 fighting to the death until only one was left. That would seem like a recipe for a critic-repellant flick doomed to an R rating, but director Gary Ross (“Pleasantville”) pulled off a PG-13 rating.
The introduction into the world of “The Hunger Games” reminded me of the movie “Children of Men.” It was not a future in which everyone had a hover car and even poor people had robots. It was a world in which civilization as we know it had crumbled on itself, and the lower and higher classes were clearly marked by their dress and habitats. The one “district” we actually saw—12—was a coal mining civilization ravished by poverty. The whole area was littered with junk and debris and was washed over with a gray palette. It was a realistic depiction of a plausible future.
When introduced to Katniss, Lawrence evoked the spirit of girl who indeed had little. She played the character as a girl who seemed desensitized from growing up around constant poverty and even having to take care of her sister and mother after her father’s death. But she was also brave and bold, all of which was wrapped in fear from what she was enduring. Lawrence had this way of portraying many emotions by keeping them all bottled up and just letting them trickle out as the movie progressed.
Josh Hutcherson was good here, too, as Peeta, the male tribute from District 12. Like Katniss, he was a bit insecure and came from a broken home. But unlike her, he lacked the confidence to realize who he really was. His character didn’t really develop as nicely or deeply, but it was still a solid character with a performance to match.
All the supporting roles were good, especially from Woody Harrelson as a Games’ winner Haymitch and Elizabeth Banks as eccentric Effie Trinket. All their costumes and makeup were lavish and did exactly what costumes should do, which bring out the character.
The movie as a whole handled everything it needed to well. Acting, character development, action sequences in the latter half, environment, relationships —those were all done well. But some elements still stopped this movie from being great.
First off, as good a director as Ross is, the camera work in this film was way too claustrophobic. Far too many shots were far too close. It was bad at the beginning but progressively got a bit better as it went on. But I felt trapped on the characters’ faces and didn’t see as much of the environment as I would’ve liked. But even when I did get what I was hoping for, I was sometimes let down. For instance, when all the tributes were riding into the Capitol for screaming audiences, the wide angle shot showed off what were amateur visuals. The audience and its surroundings looked fake, and the characters on the chariots looked chopped and detached from the background images.
This leads me to my next point. The sheer size and scope of the movie just didn’t seem to exist for what will become a trilogy. All the greats have established plot points that will lead their future films into one big, epic tale.
“Star Wars” established it would be Luke and the rebels vs. Vader and The Empire. “Harry Potter” made it clear it would be Harry vs. Voldemort. And “Lord of the Rings” set Frodo on his quest to destroy the ring.
But “Hunger Games” didn’t have that. It really just felt like one small movie, albeit with a good story, but just too limiting for a foreseeable saga.
This may be because, other than a few bad apples in the tournament, there is no real villain was established. I mean, to those who read the book, the villain is clearly the Capitol and its leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland). None of that came through in the film, nor did the deep-seeded social commentary between the Capitol’s hierarchy over the districts servant class, which is a battle all its own.
The music was also to blame. Not that it was bad, just bland. The orchestra used on this film was not fully utilized to give the scenes a heavy dramatic and epic feel. Thank God, the acting saved some of those scenes.
I felt more as if I were watching one episode of a TV show than the beginning of a franchise. This wasn’t helped by the ending, which involved a clearly upset Sutherland watching Katniss and Peeta bathing in victory after winning the games, then just walking off to a fade. He had something on his mind, but it was too anticlimactic, leaving me wondering what would happen next week on “The Hunger Games: SVU.” It all just lacked a clear direction with little hint on where it’s going.
But a lot of these problems were just glitches, and although they brought down its quality, they didn’t diminish the other wonderfully done aspects about the film. All in all, the movie was well-acted, well-written, tastefully handled concerning the violence, was a little slow in parts and lacked a certain grandeur but was ultimately a good film. No more, no less.