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The Hunger Games – Review

Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross (whose most recent picture was Seabiscuit in 2003), is a well paced film that pits child against child in a fight to the death. In a distant dystopian future, North America is separated into 13 districts. The wealthy capital surrounded by 12 poorer districts. As punishment for a rebellion committed some time in the past, the 12 lower class districts must offer a yearly tribute of one female and one male child to participate in The Hunger Games. The “games” pits all 24 children on an island, arming them with weapons where they are forced to fight each other for survival until there is but one survivor… sound familiar?

For those of us in the “nerd” circle, The Hunger Games is almost identical to a 1999 published novel by Koushun Takami, Battle Royale. Although Suzanne Collins claims no knowledge of the book or films that followed in 2000 and 2003 respectively (released this week on Blu Ray), there are just too many similarities and almost a 10 year gap between the two. The key difference between the 2 films, in Battle Royale, a classroom of students (roughly the same age) are basically kidnapped and set to fight through a military research project. They are released onto an island where each is given random weapons or tools. There can be only one survivor. If there is more than one survivor at the end of the 3 day battle, explosive necklaces are detonated. Battle Royale was a very controversial film for it’s time and it’s hard to believe a writer had never heard of it. Throw in the game show background and atmosphere of The Running Man (1987) and you’ve got a good feel for the film.

This is not necessarily a bad thing though. The Hunger Games is an excellent film that marries story elements of classic genre films, and walks away with something special. The cast is strong with well groomed, believable characters, and dare I say a stronger more developed storyline than past references. Although its hard to ignore its similarities, The Hunger Games takes a brilliant concept, modernizes it, and makes it more digestible for the general public. The horrific acts of children killing children is handled effectively and tastefully with quick and elusive camera work. The camera never lingers long enough to allow the viewer time to feel the full impact of the cuts, slashes and impalings (see Battle Royale). This can be viewed as a plus or minus depending on your audience. Personally, I would have liked to see a 14A rating with a little more edge, however the film is aimed at a teen/young adult audience so I can’t really knock it.

Performances are great all around, with Jennifer Lawrence (Mystique from X-Men First Class) leading the way as Katniss Everdeen. Josh Hutcherson also holds his own in a somewhat more mature role than he’s used to playing (also appearing in the remake of Red Dawn later this year). And for good measure, toss in a great supporting cast including Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, and Elizabeth Banks (didn’t know it was her until the credits).

On the negative, The Hunger Games suffers from very predictable characters and an end confrontation that can be seen a half hour in. Also, one of the few parts I wasn’t completely on board for was when Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) displays some mad makeup skills when blending in with his environment. Maybe his abilities are better explained in the books, but in the context of the film, I found it an unnecessary reach.

That being said, and gripes aside, The Hunger Games is an awesome film, and one that should be enjoyed in the theater! I may even order the books as I’m told the story goes a lot deeper than what we’re given in this first chapter of the trilogy.

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About Ralph

I don't claim to be a professional critic in any capacity, I just like watching movies and enjoy talking about what I've seen. My favorites tend to fall in the Fantasy/Horror genres, but honestly, I'll watch just about anything!
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  1. At first I was apprehensive about seeing this since it looked like some Battle Royale rip-off and I didn’t(and still don’t) believe Collins never heard of BR. Whether she saw the movie, read the book or just listened to a friend tell her about it, I guess we’ll never know, but anyway…instead of just being a hater I picked up the books(box set) for a sweet deal to give THG a fair shake. I finished the first one in 4 days and really liked it. Despite its many similarities, there are enough differences that I wasn’t constantly thinking about BR and very much enjoyed it. As for the movie, I was hoping for an adaptation as good as LOTR, Scott Pilgrim or Watchmen, but sadly that didn’t happen. Although the movie covers almost everything, it doesn’t spend enough time on anything. Even at 2:22 it went by way too fast and could’ve benefitted greatly by adding another 20 minutes. Things I liked were: seeing the control room which we don’t in the book, more of president Snow, Woody Harelson as Haymitch, Jennifer Lawrence, Kravitz and well, the whole cast was really good. They just weren’t given enough to say and do. The oppression from this authoritarian society is not really felt in the movie. Barely a mention district 13, no Avox…The whole star-crossed lovers angle isn’t emphasized nearly enough and how for Katnis, it’s purely a survival tactic which she believes Peeta is in on when in fact the feelings he shares with the audience are real. Where is the hunger in the movie? Katnis finds water right away instead of suffering from dehydration first. Peeta’s leg injury is nothing instead of life threatening. Rue isn’t around long enough to care much about her and I could go on and on…Of course details are always lost in book to film translations, but it’s important that the movie at least retain the feel of the book. Unfortunatley, THG movie fails at least as much as it succeeds. A 6.5/10 for me. An extended cut on Blu-ray could easliy bump up my rating a couple points. Just started reading Catching Fire and can’t wait to start Mockingjay…

    • I spelled Katniss wrong (@_@)

    • I agree with a lot of what you’re saying Jesse. Unfortunately I didn’t read the books yet so I have no basis for comparison. Everything you say here seems pretty positive, but they just didn’t seem to flesh things out as much as you would have hoped. I totally agree that it could have been extended… even at 2:22 I could have easily handled more. I never really felt bored. To me that’s a good thing.

      On a separate note though, and being someone who’s read the novel, can you comment on Peeta’s makeup skills. I felt they were unnecessary in the scope of the film and very thinly supported. Are his skills in that department better fleshed out in the book?

      • Other than his cake decorating, not really. Although the scene in the movie where Katniss finds him blended in with the mud on the ground isn’t qhite how I imagined it in the book and is described differently. The movie made it look kind of impossible and a bit silly. Definitely not very believable. I imagined it more like the scene in First Blood with Stallone covered in mud, but with the addition of leaves. It seemed plausible enough in the book I guess, but not the way the movie shows it. You are right to be bothered by it.

        • It just seemed like a very unrealistic stretch… almost like he was given a cake decorating set with all the right colors for blending, not to mention how perfectly blended he was without a mirror. And… c’mon, what if someone stepped on his face. Most of his body was hidden perfectly in what seemed to be a believable way, it wouldn’t have been that hard to cover his head too. I can see a hilarious 1 panel comic with Katniss stepping on Peeta’s face in that scene…. Whoops! Somebody do it!!!!

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