A post-hype review.
*** ½ out of 5
Rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images - all involving teens
Article first published as Movie Review: The Hunger Games on Blogcritics.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the main event. In this corner, we have the first of three Young Adult novels. Three hundred sixty four pages and selling millions of copies — everyone please welcome Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.” And in this corner, we have one of the year’s biggest box office hits. Costing a mere $78 million, earning $684 million worldwide, and certified “Fresh” on RottenTomatoes at 84%, please say hello to director/co-writer Gary Ross’s film adaptation.
Yes, it may have been released on March 23, and some would say I’m behind the times, but I have finally seen “The Hunger Games.” While the plot is extremely unnecessary to rehash at this point, all I can report on is whether the film works on its own merits. Or at least point out, what does or doesn’t work. It may still be receiving rave reviews, but I think I have to sit somewhere in the middle. As my wife said when the credits rolled, “I think I’m just whelmed. Not over and not under.” Even the friend who lent me the Blu-ray felt about the same way from what I could tell. And he’s a huge fan of the book. It’s one of five books he’s ever read in his entire life (“The Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire,” “Mockingjay,” “Swan Song,” and “Strip Tease” to be exact).
Aside from Ross’s decision to cut to shaky cam footage anytime something gets exciting, I think the biggest fault lies in the decision to completely excise the first-person narrative. I can agree that voiceover narration can become quite irksome. But having also read the novel myself, I can sustain that by cutting out Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) inner monologues, we miss out on a lot of the true turmoil going on inside her head. It also completely undercuts the end of the film making her intentions more confusing than anything. Those who have read the novel will know what I mean. Let alone the fact that one of the novel’s main characters (Gale Hawthorne, played by Liam Hemsworth, brother of Chris, aka “Thor”) is supposed to be the third part of a love triangle but is only in three scenes in a 142-minute film.
Now don’t get me wrong; the film works fine on its own merits, I just think that Ross, along with co-writers Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins herself, have completely demolished the emotional tides that bind the enterprise together. At least Josh Hutcherson (playing Peeta Mellark) fares better here than he has in a long time. And Jennifer Lawrence really shines as Katniss bringing the ferocity needed to pull the part off, particularly when she attacks Peeta after he reveals he has unrequited feelings for her in an interview with Caesar Flickman (the always stupendous Stanley Tucci).
A final thought is that to fully enjoy the film you really have to separate the two entities from each other. Those who have read the novel may still love the film but when even the character of Rue (Amandla Stenberg) can’t make you cry in a pivotal scene, the job just isn’t done. And finally, this probably features the most anti-climatic ending to a series entry in quite a while. Having President Snow (Donald Sutherland) simply walk up some stairs into a cut-to-black moment just seemed to really give absolutely no closure. I know there’s still three more films to come, but even each “Lord of the Rings” film had their own endings. As do each of the “Hunger Games” novels. At least the film wasn’t a dismal failure and only one scene is reminiscent of something out of another YA series caught on film (I’m looking at you “Twilight”).
So in closing, if you’re able to approach the film version of “The Hunger Games” with a clean slate (and I feel like I did, having read the novel before the film even came out and just barely catching the film now at home) then it will at least live up to most of your hyped-up expectations.
Photos courtesy Lionsgate