We are running with two reviews of The Hunger Games to give readers two perspectives on this adaptation. Michael Haffner has read the novel by Suzanne Collins while Andy Triefenbach has not. Read Michael ’s review here to see if it is different from Andy’s.
I first heard about The Hunger Games from a friend’s wife. When she explained it to me, I heard echoes of Battle Royale in there. Not just because of the plot but one thing people forget is that Battle Royale was actually a young adult novel in Japan. It was much like a sensation as Harry Potter and the Twilight books. There were viewing parties and midnight shows in Japan and was a huge box office draw when the film adaptation was released. While the plot of multiple teens ending up on an isolated yet controlled “slaying” field is consistent with both stories, they differ quite a lot.
The story takes place in a future where North America is a bit deteriorated from an unknown and there are districts that remain instead of states. There is a social division between classes with the twelve districts and the Capitol as the Capitol is bright, colorful place full of people who seem to be drunk on luxury while your districts seem to be the working class. Every year, a male and female from the ages 12-18 are offered up as tribute to play in a deadly televised event called The Hunger Games. These two tributes from every district are then taken to The Capitol to prepare for the event while schmooze with people to get sponsors, who will assist the tributes once they are in the game. While it is evident that this is set in the future, this district and other districts do not carry the sophisticated technologies that are seen once the tributes reach The Capitol. Instead, these districts only focus and produce certain equities/products to The Capitol.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is the main focus of the film and comes from District 12 which is full of the poor and coal miners. Once her 12 year old sister, Primrose, is selected in her first year of Prim’s name being entered, Katniss volunteers as tribute to save her sister. Katniss is a smart young woman who not only seems more mature for her age but is also a badass with a bow and arrow, which she uses to hunt game so her family will not starve.
Sure, the story contains elements of stories already told. If you combine the drawing used in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, mix in the young adult element of Battle Royale, the televised commercialism and sensationalism of The Truman Show and add a strong female lead character and you essentially have something that would taste a bit like The Hunger Games. The characters from The Capitol are the total opposite of what we see of the other districts in their monotone palates of clothing and living. Everything is diluted of color and almost feels black & white while the inhabitants of The Capitol are vibrant with color, life and vigor. The Hunger Games is their Super Bowl or personal Olympics. There are interesting socialistic views in the film that are definitely there to be mentioned but what elevates this film from just being a film for teens or a piece of shock value are director Gary Ross and actress Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence, who most people have seen from Winter’s Bone, really grounds this extreme future in a relatable fashion. By following Katniss and telling the story from her view, visually, it works very well. It is easy for filmgoers to adapt to environments that are archaic or before our time as opposed to, sometimes, blasting them with bright, vibrant and over-the-top future. We are eased into The Capitol much like Katniss is and this makes it more believable for the audience which is something to be said about Gary Ross. It could have been executed a different way that I think would have hindered the actual story here. Residents from all the districts are born to be cogs in the system. That system is, essentially, to serve The Capitol via entertainment or to produce product and be part of the industrialization of society. It is a world derived of free thinking, which is one of the core functions that you see in most science-fiction films or dystopian worlds.
For a PG-13 film, it shows the violence without shying away from it. The scene when the game starts is pretty brutal without showing too much and what makes it more brutal is the audio is muffled and quiet which just makes the violence we see on the screen more brutal. It is a very effective scene that, while not as gory as it could be, still works because of the way it is delivered. There is an alliance of kids that are out to kill everyone that is truly frightening due to their disregard of humanity and lack of moral judgement. However, this is the way they were taught because the district they come from expects this from them and for the previous 73 years of The Hunger Games, the victor would come from that district. You sense the pressure they are given from society of their district and from The Capitol but this might be one of the weaker points of the film because it is not explored too in depth.
While the story seems to really rush towards the finishing line in the end and some things are not explained as well as they possibly could be, The Hunger Games succeeds because of Jennifer Lawrence’s acting ability to make a connection with the audience and Gary Ross’ precise direction. The film is thrilling for all ages and never really loses intensity. The film will be a hit regardless due to the fans of the book that are already out there but it is nice to know that for those of us, like me, that haven’t read the book shouldn’t treat it like Twilight as this story is actually for all ages and sexes. For the horror fans out there expecting an Americanized or cannibalized version of Battle Royale, I can tell you that it is like Battle Royale when the games start but without the cheezy melodrama. So, in ways, I can see people possibly liking this better than Battle Royale however, The Hunger Games is not as brutally violent as Battle Royale. So guys, if your girls want to take you to see this film, guess what…it’s good and you will probably like it. I know I did and actually plan on seeing it again in the theaters as soon as I can. Yes, it is that good.