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.