Many films promise a veritable buffet for movie lovers – cool visuals, competent acting, a watertight plot – and many films fall short. The Hunger Games, a big-screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s dystopic science-fiction novel, is no exception.
The film paints an image of a bleak future ruled by decadent corporate bigwigs in The Capitol, where the underclass toils in outlying, slum-like districts. As punishment for an insurrection, each district must offer up a pair of teenagers each year in tribute, to participate in a televised death match called The Hunger Games.
It all begins on the cusp of the 74th Hunger Games, with the protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteering as tribute in her sister’s place. Also chosen is Peeta Mellark, a baker’s boy who’s long held a torch for the spunky Katniss.
What follows is a tale that bears striking similarities to Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale, with a liberal smattering of Man vs. Wild thrown into the mix and it’s pretty much repetitive after awhile.
Katniss climbs trees, skulks in bushes, slings arrows a la Rambo, and somehow or the other, gets out of hairy situations because she’s the girl of destiny. ’nuff said. There’s a romance subplot between Katniss and Peeta, but the chemistry’s lukewarm at best, and while the film attempts to include something of a political metaplot, it gets muddled and lost in the woods really quickly.
Somehow, The Hunger Games feels like a step back for Gary Ross, whose directing credits include Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. Sure, he’s managed to cobble something of a movie together, but this one sure isn’t going to win him any awards. It’s got a long, plodding setup (which takes up at least a good half of it’s 142 minute runtime), a premise that might as well be thrown to the wolves, and while Battle Royale elevated schoolyard violence to an art form, The Hunger Games just drops it in the gutter.
It’s apparent as well that it was Jennifer Lawrence who carried the show. Her performance as the tough-as-nails Katniss was reasonably good, though Josh Hutcherson, by comparison, was pretty much an accessory on screen. It was also a shame that the other Tributes didn’t get a whole lot of screen time, and frankly, I would have enjoyed more of Woody Harrelson’s kookiness as mentor Haymitch.
Watch if you’re curious, but I’d suggest sticking with the novel instead.