We’ve seen it all before. The dystopian world that’s gone so far off the deep end that its citizens are forced to start some twisted show in which a certain number of humans kill each other for survival and entertainment. It’s not a new story, but what it is about “The Hunger Games” that stands out the most is the actors and the script. But that’s not to say that the Gary Ross directed film has no flaws.
The plot is pretty simple. We follow a strong teenage girl named Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) on the day of “The Reaping” where they choose a young boy and girl to represent their district in the brutal Hunger Games where they’re forced to kill each other in order to survive. Of course this is broadcasted throughout the entire nation of Panem so it appears to be a reality show where the stakes have never been higher.
If you were to take two movies that you could put together to make some of “The Hunger Games” it would have to be “The Running Man” and “Battle Royale.” It’s a game show where you’re forcing adolescents to slaughter each other not only for their own survival but just for pure entertainment purposes, along with keeping the nation under somebody’s twisted grasp. The nice thing about “The Hunger Games” is that rather than expose us to a large group of characters, including our lead actors, and barely develop any sort of story behind them they take the time to flesh them out. Katniss isn’t just a young girl who’s fairly good at archery and Peeta isn’t just some random blonde haired boy. They all have personalities, they all have characteristics that people can actually love or hate about them. Granted, I’ve never read the books so I don’t know how closely they stuck to the source material but the script is fairly good structurally from beginning to end.
While we’re on the topic of beginnings, within the first fifteen minutes you’re convinced that most of the people on set have never seen a tripod in their life. Why is that? Because the camera is so shaky to the point of pure annoyance. Thankfully they decided to keep their action shots slightly more still but it shouldn’t be a necessity to try and move around the camera like that in order to get more of a heightened effect. The story, the proper director, a nice set of tunes and a good performance can easily fix that. That and it’s understandable when you want to use that kind of camera effect. For instance, it’s used heavily when Katniss volunteers to be part of the Hunger Games just to save her sister. That’s fine, but we don’t need it when we’re getting establishing shots of the city. The viewer wants to be able to see the city, not get very vague glimpses of it.
Regardless of that, Gary Ross’ vision works, it’s suitable for the movie. He does what he needs to do in order to give the audience a better view through Katniss’ eyes and succeeds. If he didn’t screw around so much with the camera in the first fifteen minutes then I’d call this a complete success on his end, but it’s just mostly.
While we’re on the visuals, everything is top notch between the production design and the special effects. Normally in young adult oriented movies such as “The Hunger Games” they tend to suffer in the visual effects department. It’s not that nobody’s doing their job, it’s just that it feels like that portion of the movie becomes secondary to those behind it because they have said named actor that they’re selling the whole thing on. Who needs a good CG backdrop when you’ve got some pouty-faced actor in front of you? That’s the wrong way to do things, and thankfully those behind the production of “The Hunger Games” wised up and did a spectacular job with all of their effects. If only there were more movies like this where they took some extra amount of time to make sure everything looked perfect.
Then we go to our actors, and the first one we have to talk about is Jennifer Lawrence. She’s a skilled young actress who’s already shown what she’s able to do on the big screen between “Winter’s Bone” and even in “X-Men: First Class.” She’s able to grasp her character and maintain a great performance even with all of the flashy visuals around her in a big budget movie. Katniss is already well written, and the main thing that Lawrence does right is not only bring her to life but make her have a voice, an opinion and her own frame of mind. You can’t say that about many characters in young adult movies, especially when it comes to their actors. There’s plenty of times where you see them phone in their performance just for a paycheck, because they know that they’ll be getting tons of money just for standing in front of the camera and looking pretty. Lawrence is an actress and she makes you believe that Katniss is a living human being.
The rest of the cast is an absolute delight, though it was slight disappointing to see Liam Hemsworth’s character kind of sit on the bench for most of the time. Granted, this is Katniss’ movie and she’s the star, but when you’re throwing another actor like that in everybody’s faces through the advertisements you figure that maybe he has a slight role in the movie, but that’s not the case. Josh Hutcherson is another surprise, a budding young actor who’s starting to firmly plant his feet on the ground with his own performance. It’s refreshing to see young actors blossoming on the big screen in a huge way. That and it’s always a delight to see them share the screen with other wonderful talent like Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley and even Lenny Kravitz.
But in the end, does it all work out fine? Is “The Hunger Games” worth your time? The answer is yes. It’s a good movie with a couple of problems but for the most part is fairly entertaining. It’ll be great to see how they go about with the sequel. You just hope that they take the time and effort to properly put it together like they did with this movie.