The Hunger Games (2012) Review

The Hunger Games
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Elizabeth Banks,
Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz and Donald Sutherland
Directed by: Gary Ross
Rated: PG-13 

Like it or not, The Hunger Games is succeeding the popular and finishing franchises of Harry Potter and Twilight. Both franchises made oodles of bank in America and overseas and fooled a lot of teenagers. Now something has to take their place and what better than the best-selling young adult book “The Hunger Games.” It’s got a lot to please everyone, a futuristic setting, violence, a love story, and politics. Something for everyone in the family.

In the future, after a great war, the world is separated into 12 districts that look more or less like World War II concentration camps, if they had bakeries. Every year to keep the peace, the Capitol selects two “tributes,” a boy and a girl from each district by lottery to compete in the Hunger Games where 24 kids from 11-18 fight to the death. Everyone watches it and it’s treated like the Olympic games. This year, young Katniss Everdeen from District 12 has a particularly bad day when her younger sister randomly gets picked to compete and she volunteers to fight in her place. Also chosen is a baker’s son named Peeta who has long had a crush on Katniss, even though Katniss has the hots for a boy named Gale whom she hunts with. Confusing? I read the first book in the series and it still doesn’t make complete sense to me.

I enjoyed the first book in the Hunger Games series but did not love it even though the ending cliffhanger did make me want to read the second. I knew a big-budget movie was inevitable and my interest was peaked at the casting. Jennifer Lawrence is the perfect girl to pull off Katniss, tough but grounded, clever but moral. As long as a new franchise is being created at least the lead is an empowering character. She provides for her family, selfless, a bad-ass, and a far cry from Twilight’s Bella.  The whole cast is pretty exceptional actually. Liam Cunningham and Josh Hutcherson are good male leads. Hutcherson starts off as a pretty uninteresting character and gets a chance to develop. While Cunningham has a good chemistry with Lawrence that never goes anywhere and hopefully will in the sequel. Woody Harrelson is a standout as Haymitch, their mentor, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, and Wes Bentley are all serviceable in their roles that require nothing more to wear a silly wig, except Bentley who has facial hair that looks like Tony Stark’s pubes. I’d say he’s having a stellar year after doing nothing but being thrown out of a window in Underworld: Awakening earlier this year. Elizabeth Banks is also underutilized as Effie Trinket who looks more like a ghost-faced 40’s debutante. Actually while all of the districts wear leftover jumpsuits from Logan’s Run, the Capitol all dress like Drag Queens on Moulin Rogue night. Apparently after a major war we all dress like we are on Rupaul’s Drag Race. Although you will probably see the movie’s costume designer walk away with an Oscar.

The film moves at a pretty trim pace and keeps for the most part on par with the book besides omitting a few R-Rated changes. People unfamiliar with the book should have an easy time catching up with the story as it plays out. When it comes time to the actual Hunger Games, boy was I underwhelmed. In the book, the Hunger Games are dragged out for weeks and disease, cold, and hunger kill off many, while in the film  it seems more or less like a few days and isn’t nearly as morbid or gruesome as the book or one might imagine. Blood is shown is quick jump cuts, hunger is never really a problem, and disease/injuries are magically fixed. While the book had a social commentary on our bleak future, I felt like the movie tried to be more appealing and safe for a mass audience than a shocking, depressing morality tale. Director Gary Ross does good with the material but I can’t forgive for the shoddy camerawork. I felt queasy with a lot of the shaky cam which seemed to appear even when people are having a regular conversation. The shaky cam, out of focus shots, and some terrible green-screening (the shot of Katniss and Peeta on the chariot comes to mind) is hard to swallow in a big budget action film. It felt cheaper than it should have been. The intimate feel it was trying to capture even came off as cold.

Overall, I’d like to see how the franchise continues. Jennifer Lawrence is a great on-screen presence that I can watch in anything, the supporting cast is well-cast, the story is for the most part faithful, and some action sequences are well-shot but overall I was left (pardon the pun) hungry for more. Nah, actually I just think I was hungry.

RATING: 6/10

“This is gonna be one awkward three-way.”