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Film Review : Hunger Games

Mar 24, 2012 05:26PM ● By Justin Buettner

The first part in a three movie series based on a popular book series by Suzanne Collins, Hunger Games takes place in an alternate reality. Children are randomly selected to take part in a gladiator styled fight to death to keep rebellious districts of the country from uprising. The story follows Kitniss (played by Jennifer Lawrence) as she volunteers in place for her younger sister. Coming from a poor district, Kitness must fight long odds as there is only one survivor in the savage contest and other districts have been training their children from an early age to survive the game.

I have not read a word of the book series so this review is based solely on the merits of the film and not how well the film adapted the book. This is an important distinction as the fans of the book series will have a completely different reaction to this movie. They will be armed with a lot more knowledge of the backstory that the film does not have time to tell. The Hunger Games also bears the weight of considerable hype from a rabid fan base of the books. So did the Hunger Games live up to enthusiasm the fan base has for it? For now my answer is a maybe.

 There is a lot to like about the Hunger Games. The plot is very interesting and the characters that populate the movie are not the most original, but they are likable. This is certainly helped by the very strong performances in the movie led by Jennifer Lawrence. Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss really is the glue that holds the whole movie together. Gary Ross, the writer and director, was the perfect match for this project. He paces the movie slow enough to give Jennifer Lawrence time to express the complex emotions that Katniss goes through. Well over the first half of the movie is dedicated to setting up and preparing for the games. The strength of the movie lies in this set up as the relationships and social-political landscape are established. There is a lot of exposition to get through and during these scenes it never feels forced or heavy handed. The filmmakers respect the audience to draw the connections so much of the information is subtle. This is very well done.

I had major problems with the film though. The most glaring weakness of the movie is the cinematography. The movie features horrible camera work which forcefully turns a R rated movie into a PG-13 movie. The use of shaky cam makes the action non-coherent turning all the key action scenes in the movie into a complete waste of time. It was obvious this technique was used to mask the violence. The inability to show any of the action really impacted film’s ability to develop a villain. It is easy to tell the story wants a group of highly trained assassin kids to be the villains but they are not featured nearly enough. The Hunger Games also foreshadows the president character as a future villain, but his impact in this movie is not felt.

The absence of a major villain made it almost impossible for the film to have a complete story arch. When the film ends nothing of great significance has changed. Fans of the book point out that it is just part one of a trilogy. This is true. But other films that were developed from books, like The Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter, told complete stories that had a clear beginning, middle and end within a larger story that ran across the multiple films. This movie does not. The movie ends without a resolution to the main plight of the characters or people at large. It does hint at trouble in the future but these hints are slightly vague and give no indication of the impact that will face the main characters. It also fails to wrap up relationships or give any greater purpose to the events or the people that preceded them. The movie spends half it’s running time during training and developing a set of characters that just seem to disappear and never are seen again.  

There were other small issues I had with the way the plot unfolded. Too many times characters seem to be in the right place at the right time to make a save. For instance a deadly nest of wasps shows up at just the right spot. In other parts of the movie characters appear to save the day at just the right moment and it started to get a tad too convenient. The genetically altered animals as a whole seemed rather random set in a world with the same rules as ours. Perhaps the book had a better explaination for this?

Watching the movie I was struck by how much a film like this would benefit from being a high production HBO series instead of a feature movie. Despite spending over half the film showing the training, it still felt like a lot was missing. Especially the ending which seemed to be shown in a highlight reel way delivering a barrage of twists so quick that none of them had much impact. If the story was given 12 hours instead of two and a half I feel like the plot, relationships and the overall effect would be much greater. Time could be spent developing the other children that were forced to participate in the game too giving their death scenes a far greater emotional force than what is given in the movie.

I sure wish the studio and the filmmakers would have been brave enough to make the film the way it was intended to be made, which is an R rated film. A movie about kids killing other kids for sport really has no business being a PG movie anyway, but it will be hard to argue with the financial results of the movie having the lesser rating. I hope the future two installments help correct some of the story problems the first movie has. It will be nice to see a prominent villain and a complete story arch in the next films. Despite the bad camera work the Hunger Games is still a very interesting and entertaining start to a new series.

Films like Hunger Games : The Running Man, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Truman Show

Justin Buettner is Style's resident movie dude! How did he get this role? Well, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in film Production and a duel minor in Animation and Business with an emphasis in the entertainment field. He later went on to work on several independent films in various key roles including writer and later worked in the special effects field as a motion capture artist. He has since relocated to the Sacramento area with his family and continues writing for small independent films in addition to his movie reviews for Style Magazine.

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