The Hunger Games (dir. Gary Ross, 2012) – A dystopian future sees teenagers forced into an arena for the annual Hunger Games, where they fight to death on live television.
Though fairly entertaining, Gary Ross’ adaptation of the Hunger Games falls short due to shoddy storytelling.
In the dystopian future, Panem youths fight to death in the annual televised Hunger Games. I first read Suzanne Collins’ trilogy when a Battle Royale fan introduced it to me. While sceptical at the apparent rip-off at first, I soon realised that similarities between the young adult novel and the cult film end at their premises.
The Hunger Games stands well enough on its own, exploring diverging motivations and ideologies of the rich and the impoverished. Told through the eyes of Katniss Everdeen, the story comes from the unique perspective of a sixteen-year-old, who must tread the delicate line between murder and survival.
Though older than the character on the pages, actress Jennifer Lawrence has no trouble bringing to life the involuntary warrior. Doubts will be eradicated, once the girl on fire is in action.
She embodies the young empowering heroine, endowing her with strength and maturity. No stranger to portraying fading innocence in face of hardship, the Winter’s Bone star carries the movie with ease.
Lawrence’s shining performance does not detract from that of her co-stars. Woody Harrelson is haunting as former survivor Haymitch, forced to become part of the system he had good reason to loathe. Willow Shields and Amandla Stenberg command attention as Katniss’ sister Primrose and game ally Rue, both young victims of the brutal state crime in their own ways.
Once the ‘game’ begins, visuals prove as spectacular in weaponry and the imposing arena itself. Taking advantage of the on-screen form, The Hunger Games movie includes perspectives of the Capitol, previously untold in the novel’s first-person narrative. Such extensions show much more of how the Gamemakers work, building upon the ruthless tyrant President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
Everything beyond the arena is unfortunately handled in a careless fashion. Watching from the sidelines, Katniss’ childhood friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) appear in dispensable cutaways, scenes too brief to be anything more than perfunctory courtesy. Equally hasty is the lead-up to the rebellion that fails to leave a potentially indelible impact.
The bigger surprise was how the movie downplays the relationship between Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), whose moving history is never quite fleshed out and their scenes together cut brutally short. The script also leaves tributes like Cato (Alexander Ludwig) underwritten, alleviating tension from the final face-off.
The camera work is every bit as shoddy. Fights lose excitement as the shaky and tight close-ups show naught. Besides, a social commentary about violence without visual carnage feels somehow lacking.
That is not to say that gratuitous bloodshed makes a movie better. It is reasonable enough to keep violence minimal to focus on story-telling, and most importantly to the studios, to stay within the PG-13 rating. Yet leaving out some not-so-minor details does not seem quite as wise. Muttations are introduced as simplistic feral beasts, ignoring the horrifying truth of them being fallen tributes.
Such questionable choices weaken the emotional connection of The Hunger Games especially for non-readers. As a result, the movie never quite reaches its full potential despite a powerful lead. Here’s to hoping that Catching Fire would be an exceeding improvement, given its solid story line that needs little reworking.