REVIEWS

Review: 'The Hunger Games' is Fine Sci-Fi That Could've Been Better

by
March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games

The "it could have been better" argument works for and against the film begin discussed. On one hand, the film, the case here being The Hunger Games, works to a certain point, but, on the other hand, you can't help but wonder what more could have been pulled from the material. We're not asking for a three-hour adaptation of Suzanne Collins' first of three novels. However, the two-and-a-half-hour version we do get doesn't use the time it has to the best of its potential. Once the titular Game kicks in, the possibilities of its first act slip into routine, survival action. It's never boring or tedious, but something important is missing.

As with Collins' novel - the author co-wrote the screenplay here along with Billy Ray and director Gary Ross - The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic society where civil war has led to a dictatorship ruling over 12 districts. Every year, the people of these districts send one boy and one girl, aged between 12 and 18, to partake in The Hunger Games. Acting as tribute for the districts' uprising that resulted in the war, these 12 boys and 12 girls fight in a vast arena, weapons strewn throughout the field for their use, until one remains alive. The Games are televised to the nation, public executions acted on descendants of age-old treason that serve as control over another possible rebellion.

At the center of this story is Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, the girl from District 12 who volunteers herself after her beloved 12-year-old sister Prim is selected. Katniss and Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson, travel from their home to the arena in hopes of fame, status, and, most importantly, their own survival.

Ross' film does a fine job building the characters - those outside of the competition, anyway - the setting, and the Games themselves in the first half. The 24 teenagers don't enter the arena until somewhere on the outside of the halfway mark. The training, pageantry, and social appearance provide a focus to what really goes on behind the scenes here, and all of it is endlessly fascinating. So, too, are the cast of characters the kids come in contact with before they're forced to fight for their lives. Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, a past winner of the Games, mentor to the new kids from District 12, and fan of the drink; Elizabeth Banks as the Kabuki, ball gown-wearing escort, Effie Trinket; and Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the host to the TV audience who's all capped teeth and hyperbole. All colorful characters backed by glowing performances.

But, as interesting as those characters are, there isn't enough time given to the other 22 "Tributes" Katniss and Peeta will be fighting against. In the time we spend leading up to the Games, we learn the names of only a few of these other kids. Faces become familiar here and there, and it becomes easier to define someone by what District they represent, but fully fleshed out characters aren't of interest. Collins, Ray, and Ross, instead, seem more interested in the film's leads and the authoritarian faces behind the competition and the Capitol's control over its people. That's enough for a time. The timeliness with which this level of 1-versus-99 comes up couldn't be more palpable, and, for roughly 90 minutes, Hunger Games transcends its B-movie, sci-fi premise.

Then the Games begin. Much appreciation has to go Ross' way for the way he handles the violence in The Hunger Games, that of kids killing kids in brutal manners. It's something that could have easily been in-your-face graphic, an R-rated actioner that pushes the boundaries of that, particular rating. But The Hunger Games, based on a very successful novel, is being looked at as a franchise starter, something that requires a PG-13 these days. Ross handles that superbly, as well. His camera never noticeably shies away from violence. We see blood spurting and the sound design is spot-on discomforting, but it rides a nice balance of accessibility without compromising the reality of it all.

As harsh as the violence is in The Hunger Games, it would have been more meaningful, more deeply felt beyond the shock of seeing teenagers murdered for sport, if we knew any of these characters. The faults of the movie's first half come into play in the back end. Without a context to who these children are and with Ross' shaky camera skills working overtime, the actual Games part of The Hunger Games quickly dilutes to a blase product. Much of it is dark. Some of it is filled with poorly executed, CG creatures. The film gets messy as a whole, and, though beats of a rebellion rise up now and again, nothing ever feels complete.

Nothing, that is, save for Jennifer Lawrence. You don't care that she's playing another downtrodden teenager who is caring for her family in a violent and rustic world. That's only a small part to Katniss' story, anyway. Lawrence was a powerhouse in Winter's Bone, and she remains equally as steadfast, stoic, and stalwart in this role. Her expressions generate a pleasantness even when she's hunting, evading attacks, and outright fighting hand-to-hand, her moods always reflecting even she isn't saying anything. Lawrence is quickly filling a spot among the greatest, up-and-coming actors, and her performance in Hunger Games simply refreshes that opinion.

But outside of its fine, lead actress, The Hunger Games never quite hits the peaks it sets out to hit. It's on the right path for much of the running time, and, for that first half, you'll even wonder if its an adaptation that couldn't have been done better. You'd be right about that first half. Unfortunately, the real meat of the film comes late in the game, and, by then, you just want to experience more of this world. The Hunger Games is fine sci-fi with very discernible connections between their world and ours. Having said that, the story could act as a warning for where we might be headed. If that's the case, at least we'll be more familiarized by the participants once the real Hunger Games come around.

Jeremy's Rating: 6.5 out of 10

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  • Great review. This is a colorful and entertaining film, and I was constantly wrapped up in it as a drama. It isn’t the kind of bombastic event we usually get as a franchise blockbuster and for that I’m thankful. It also helps that the ensemble cast is nothing short of amazing either, and that Jennifer Lawrence's career will hopefully totally hit super-start status after this because she's great as well. Check out my review when you can.
  • Gex
    I'd rather see Battle Royale.
    • Mediocrityisthenewgenius
      Battle Royale wasn’t that great.
  • I think the movie is much better then a 6.5, this was an almost spot on adaptation of the book. The violence is disturbing for a pg13 movie, and you never learn much about the other characters in the book either. It wasn't as compelling at it could have been, it seemed to lack "something" but id say its a solid 8 out of 10.
    • Rachel
       well apparently you didn't read the book if you think that it is "spot on," because they didn't even get one scene right.
      • Mediocrityisthenewgenius
        Out of all the scenes in the book, the one I wish they had done so bad was when Katniss drops her eating utensils and begins eating with her hands in the train. What an amazing opportunity to show defiance and fire, oh that and the fact that District 12 was starving. These kids looked pretty well fed in the movie.
        • GregDinskisk
           I know! I don't get why they didn't starve the actors and actresses for about thirty days AT LEAST before they started filming!
  • Xerxexx
    Definite rent.
  • AAAutin
    I DEMAND KIRK'S HEAD...from which to model a handsome bust.
  • Spot on review. The movie is too unbalanced. Solid build-up, but the execution of the premise underwhelmed me. We seem to be in the minority. =/
  • Imma DL diz biatch, yo! :)
  • jah p
    I'll check this out tonight.
  • Taylor
    I couldn't disagree more. The film was a fantastic adaptation of the book. 
  • bdesign
    I keep reading reviews like this that take issue with what the movie does or doesn't do, when these elements are pretty close to how the book was written.  In the book, you don't get to know all 24 tributes, that would be ridiculous on paper, as it would be on screen (especially in a movie that is 2+ hours already). Katniss doesn't even know all of the tributes names, so how would we as readers? If issues like these are the main points of transgression in The Hunger Games, then I am really do look forward to seeing the movie tomorrow, and not only because it's sounding like a faithful recreation of a good book.
    • GregDinskisk
       It's the best possible adaption they could've done, (sorry Kirk), and everything they added to the film that wasn't in the books was extremely smart adds. The things they took out made sense. I don't believe there was anything else they could have done to make it a better adaption.
  • Agree with a lot of what you said, Jeremy. I did a long review of the film on AtTheCinema (http://www.atthecinema.net/review-the-hunger-games/ ) and found similar problems. I haven't read the novel but I think it may have adequately filled some of the holes - and lack of character development - found in the film.
  • Brenden F.
    I find it completely absurd to criticize the film for following the book as it did, especially if you haven't read it, Julian B. In the book, Katniss didn't know who any of the other tributes were, and didn't even know Marvel's name until the next book. The "incomplete" feeling you get is probably do to the fact that it's a trilogy. Aside from the lack of Avoxs, and the uprising starting way too early and in the wrong district, I, being a huge fan of the novels, think this was an amazing film rendition. 9.5 out of 10.
    • I'm not criticising the film for following the book at all! I'm saying that there were events and actions in the film that lacked proper explanation or development, and the book may have been able to provide said explanations.
      • alex
        Don't use that as an argument.  You were criticising the film because you didn't get to know more about the characters. But we, as readers, didn't get to know them in the books, either.There's only so much you can do with a book before it turns into another Lord Of The Rings. Nobody wants to sit through 200 pages of backstory to get to 200 pages of actual content, much less 3.5 hours of film in one sitting. I say give the makers credit for actually being able to formulate a decent rendition of the film. That's extremely difficult to do nowadays.
        • kryton
          More to the point, the fact that the tributes are strangers to Katniss is part of the fabric of the tale. You're being hunted by people you don't know and killing people you don't know, yet you still cannot escape the visceral effect of taking another human being's life - or witnessing that human being murdered in cold blood. Katniss is like a PTSD soldier. There's no time to "get to know" the people you're killing, and they haunt you all the more for that fact. 
          • See, funnily enough, other than one quick scene after an instinctive kill, I never felt the deaths of the other teenagers really took a toll on Katniss or added to the growing tension that occurs as the numbers dwindle. Also felt they never really showed her haunted by what had taken place after the events were done. I'm sure that will be further explored in later instalments, though.
        • Wait, why cannot I use that as an argument? The lack of character development was just one point I made - and it's not just figured at the other tributes, but also the lack of evolution in Katniss and Peeta during the Games themselves. I also had problems with the development and explanations of relationships and events. E.g. the central pair, but even more so between Katniss and Rue. Other than one scene prior to the Games with zero communication between the two, there is little explanation given as to why that relationship forms. I'm almost certain it would acknowledged/explained better in the novel. Also, the actions of Thresh would almost certainly be better explained/done in the novel. If not, then that is poor writing. Seriously, him + Cato's outburst at the end are pretty lazily done. 
          • GregDinskisk
             For the last paragraph, how so? Thresh had said that he saved Katniss' life for Rue, and what Katniss had done for her. Cato had finally realized, a fair bit too late, that he was going to die no matter what, and he was scared like the child he was. Plus, there were some beast things chasing him, which probably added to hysteria.
    • GregDinskisk
       The uprising did make a bit more sense in the movie, in the district that it took place in, and where in the movie it happened.
  • Kathy
    The movie has action, story line, enjoyable because i read the books before.  If i hadn't, the story would have left so much out. My only criteria was the fast, choppy, nausea filming, the first 10 minutes was sickening, It made me physically ill.  All fighting scenes were fast, blurred, unbelievably amateur. Did they not have premiere showings, or even trial viewings, were the audiences that blind to not notice the shaky, nauseating camera shots.  Both my kids were nauseated and had headaches by the end of the movie.  You spend that much time and effort on a big hit movie and the director allows half ass filming.  Not understanding why the director did not see this as a problem.  It felt like i was watching the Blair witch project, an amateur cam corder. The fact is, the screen writers have their opinion of the adaptation and their views win over all of america and Canada's opinions.  Obviously, they weren't playing the romance angle, because it lacked chemistry and by no means showed cross star lovers.  The casting roles were smack on, all were perfect matches for their roles.  Of course, how much can be squeezed into a 2.5 hour movie.  Its a shame, that the relationships were piss poorly written.
  • Sydney
    Ok dude, this movie was at least an 8. In the book, Katniss admits she doesn't remember most of the characters name. So, in the movie, we should feel as though we are a part of her world, a world where we are so worried for ourselves that we don't take notice to our competitors other than their size. Seriously man, read the book
  • Maansson
    Hooray, finally someone who isn't head over heels uncritically in love with this movie. I've had it up to here with glowing reviews and everyone jumping on the "amazing" bandwagon. I went to see the movie expecting nothing, as I haven't read the books. But being a sci-fi buff, I was completely openminded and hoping for the best. It didn't take me more than a few minutes to become really annoyed at the pretentious, constantly shaking camera work. I mean come on, how hard is it to show a close up of a person or an item in someones hand, without having to shake the image so violently, that you can't focus on what's in the frame. I can somewhat accept it as a "clever" way of obscuring the violence since it's apparently such a big deal with kids killing kids these days, but it was completely overdone everywhere else in the movie. The simple task of Katniss pulling back her bow and aiming it at an animal, was inexplicably intercut to smithereens between more than 10 different shaky shots of her from every angle. Like a really bad music video made by a director without any sense of orientation. Why this overkill of annoying shakiness? By mid movie you could predict every time the next shaky 'bender' was approaching - and every time the action heated up to somewhat interesting, it was reduced to an incoherent blur, where you had no chance of following who did what to who? I'm sorry, but I left the theater feeling as if I had just watched the worst movie of all time. Not even Jennifer Lawrence's good acting or the occasional sweeping sci-fi vistas can make up for more than two hours of crappy camera work. And don't get me started on the flawed logic in many scenes. Worst example: Let's go blow up the supplies to annoy the boys... oh, never mind. Apparently - for some odd reason - they've mined their own supplies, so we can just set them off. Easy peasy. WTF?? And absolutely no setup as to what society we are in, other than some vague suggestions later in the story. It's just too quick'n easy hack work. This whole thing is so poorly executed, shot and edited, that I have a hard time believing thsi is the same guy, that gave us Pleasantville and Seabiscuit??
  • Joe
    FYI Hunger Games is not Sci-Fi its Dystopian Fiction look it up that's what it is get your tagging right.
    • Xxsharpxx22189
      "As fictional dystopias are often set in a future projected virtual time and/or space involving technological innovations not accessible in actual present reality, dystopian fiction is often classified generically as science fiction, a subgenre ofspeculative fiction." Look it up and actually read the definition. Now shut your mouth and go sit in the corner for interrupting the class.
      • Joe
        Obviously you just took that from Wikipedia and this movie has nothing to do with what you have just stated this is just another teeny cliched fiction movie nothing to do with sci-fi. The movie itsellf maybe set in the future but as reader of sci-fi books/tv/shows since the 80's this movie does not have anything to do with it. Its not spaced-based at all either 
  • not good as was xpected
  • Guest D
    The mayor flaw you comment is that we do not get to know the tributes, and that is also a constant in the book, I think that what the writter means is that for the Capitol  they don't care who they are, they only consider the tributes as plain entretainment.
  • happy camper
    It has already been done in a more fantastic fashion, its called Battle Royale. and its about 12 years old now.
  • Jay1318
     The camera work was horrible and way unnecessary with all that out of focus and shaky crap. No, the book did not delve into the other tributes lives but the movie completely skirted over them being people at all. And no background on District 12 or the lives lead before the reaping. The more I think about this movie, the more disappointed I am. And that camera work... ugh! Awful.
  • ted newls
    so far the movie had been described as "tasteless and meaningless"  Just shocked to realize we could allow our kids to taste this sort of game madness - senseless
  • Shadownh2000
    You have a bit of a comma addiction.
    • I like asides. Asides require commas. It's a curse.
  • Mediocrityisthenewgenius
    I feel that if they had just put a little more effort into Katniss’s inner narrative we would’ve looked past what they had to leave out.
  • Eric1996
    You can NOT call a movie this horrible good by any means! You can't even watch half of it w/out wanting to throw up on the person in front of you. My friend had to leave the theater because of the extreme nausiness he experienced as a result of the camera work. Also, there were scenes left out from the book that I felt were necessary and to many parts that weren't needed. Overall, I was just disappointed after having read all three books and looking forward heavily to this movie.
  • Eric1996
    too many*
  • Zippy
    Any time one makes a movie of a book with a plot line such as this and ends up with a PG-13 rating something is terribly wrong.  It was a necessary compromise made to maintain the teeny bopper audience.  Also books written in the the first person usually do not fair well in the translation to movies as one loses insight into the thoughts and feelings of the main protagonist which were the essence of the books.
  • "and with Ross' shaky camera skills working overtime,"  Dude I couldn't agree more with this review. Not a bad movie but could've been better. 
  •  This article is ridiculous. The argument "It could have been better" can be applied to any film under the sun and I see no actual paths it could have taken to do so. Spending time characterizing the other "tributes" as Jeremy suggests would have taken valuable time away from understanding the main characters better before the action starts and dragged the films pace considerably. Several of the characters are given quick moments to identify them, especially the main blonde opponent dude. This is not meant to be an ensemble film and back-story for those characters would have been completely off the mark. Katniss is supposed to fight them to the death, which sort of dashes any logical means for her "fully flesh out their characters." Given that their were no other solid points made in argument against the film, I struggle to understand the reasoning behind a 6.5/10 rating... Making me wonder if the reviewer simply felt like being contradictory as many reviewers often do. I agree this is not a perfect film...but no film is a perfect film. This is an incredible adaptation of a great written work and sets the stage for a great continuing film series. Unlike "Battle Royale" which some criticize the story being similar too, the Hunger Games trilogy is not about surviving the arena battle, its about rebellion. Its the age old quest in essence, the arena battle is simply events that start our protagonist on her larger journey.
  • Karlee322
    I enjoyed the books and the movie was about what I expected except for the stupid shaky-cam.  I think it would have been fine to use it on violent parts to help with the rating, but I was absolutely nauseous watching the movie and was totally distracted thinking that there was no way that the director, writer, or anyone else working on the movie couldn't see how annoying and sickening the shaky-cam was.  I was planning on buying the dvd when it came out but not with the crazy shaky-cam.  I sure hope the director gets the info on the shaky-cam and looses it next picture or I'm sure it won't do as well as this one.  I sure won't pay money to see it.  I kept my eyes closed a lot of the time in this movie because of it.  I would give the movie content an 8 out of 10 and the shaky-cam a 0 out of 10!
  • tomi
    I thought the unsteadiness of the camera lent to the unsteadiness of what was happening at the moment.  Ingenuity here, i.e. the 'fired chariot entrance' ... the the 'swirling fire hemmed dress'.  Imagine having to fight the revolt in order to be fed.  Killing all the tributes from all the other districts in order to stay alive.   People will always be divided between how film captures the book.  What happened to the simplicity behind what movies are all about ... imagination, right??  No ... get a few so called rook or even those seasoned film makers and it all breaks down to technical issues.  People you're creeping a bit ... it's just entertainment ...  Personally ...  I was engaged but than...  I m just a  movie goer.  You know ... one of those people who simply BUY the tickets to go to the movies to so to be whisked away~
  • Cartmanzgurl4eva
    Contrary to many reviewers, I didn't find myself feeling sick over the camera work at all. Like, I noticed it but wasn't made physically uncomfortable by it. I also thought, as far as "Blockbuster/franchise" movies go, it was nice to see some straying from camera convention.

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