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Movie Review: The Hunger Games

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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 85%, 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).

And 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

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About Cinenerd

A Utah based writer, born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT for better and worse. Cinenerd has had an obsession with film his entire life, finally able to write about them since 2009, and the only thing he loves more are his wife and their two wiener dogs (Beatrix Kiddo and Pixar Animation). He is accredited with the Sundance Film Festival and a member of the Utah Film Critics Association.
  • Peeta

    Things which would of made it better:
    * less shaky-cam
    * more violence
    * katniss narrating (but not too much)

    The trailer made me so excited but the book was way better than movie.

  • rclayton

    I have the dvd playing as I am writing. For the life of me, I just don’t get it. the plot is so thin as to be impossible to pay attention to even while wrighting this. The characters are so jaded and silly as to defy empathy. Why is this clinker being taken seriously? Susan Collins should reconsider.

  • Hil

    I decided to finally watch The Hunger Games after I finished reading the book. I did this intentionally because I’ve noticed that in all genres, books are better than movie adaptations. I was excited, I was thrilled, and when I finally watched it, I was disappointed. I realized that I enjoyed the book so much more because of the inner monologues that carry the story. Without this, I think that Gary Ross made his work in putting together this film even harder. For instance, the only reason why I cried when Rue died in the movie is because I knew from the book that Katniss seen her as she does Prim. I watched the movie with one of my girlfriends I work with, who hasn’t read the book, and her eyes were completely dry. Imagine how crazy I looked bawling my eyes out, and all I could mutter was “you’d understand if you read the book!”

  • Action Kate

    Hubby and I just saw this a week or so ago. His complaint was, “The dang book is called the Hunger Games. Why did they not show how everyone is starving?”

    Because really, that is the point. As a movie viewer, when Katniss asks Gale how many times his name is in the pot to be drawn and he says “42” or whatever it is, it makes no sense. There’s no context. I don’t even think it’s explained that the names go in once a year per age. The viewer wonders, is he being punished? We don’t get to hear that they can add their names in for extra rations.

    We see Katniss in the flashback collapsed in the rain, and Peeta throwing the bread to her, but for all we know she was sick. She didn’t look underfed.

    It also undercuts the explanation of “Panem”in book 3. And the garish excess of the parties in book 2. In fact, we don’t even get to meet Katniss’s stylists in this first movie, and they’re at least important tertiary characters in the later books.

    My main grumble was that the “flashbacks” to previous scenes within the same movie cut back so completely, without any FX to indicate that they’re flashbacks, and they run so long, that I actually thought that something was wrong with the physical film and it had skipped back a chapter or three.