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Zimbio Review - 'The Hunger Games'

(photos: Lionsgate | Getty Images)

The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
Yes.

Why?

The film is a sometimes flawed, but worthy adaptation of the popular novel with a heroic performance by Jennifer Lawrence.
Steeped in the traditions of ancient myth as well as modern storytelling, The Hunger Games debuts a heroine for all time but fails to capture the massive scope of its source material. To his credit, co-writer/director Gary Ross stays quite true to Suzanne Collins' novel. All the memorable points of the beloved book are there for the story's massive fan base. The major characters are all well-sketched and portrayed. There is simply something missing. Ross' previous films (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) were romantic, but the director lacks that imagination here. The Hunger Games is a quality film, but not a visionary one.

The major argument against The Hunger Games is in its depiction of a dystopian North America. Collins' book was dire in its detailing of the evisceration of the former United States and its current manifestation, known as Panem. This is essential to the story since it sets up each character's identity. The book describes Panem as being ruled by its magnificent Capitol, which holds sway over the 12 surrounding districts, each huge land masses which cover several states. The Hunger Games itself is a government-sponsored lottery which is essentially punishment for a previous rebellion; one which saw the destruction of a 13th district. The film covers these details with a cheap introductory prelude consisting of a few sentences.

Also missing from the film is the book's main theme: hunger, and more to the point, poverty. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is the film's heroine. She lives with her mother and little sister and the family's one chief concern is what they will eat every day. Katniss becomes a skilled markswoman by traversing into the woods (something illegal in the district) and hunting small game with her friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth). The film opens with Katniss and Gale hunting in the woods, but there is no sense of depth or danger to the scene, as there is in the book.

What Ross has done is shrink The Hunger Games down to its barest elements. Yes, the film works at 142 minutes, but it is also somewhat of a missed opportunity. The story has been seen before: The Most Dangerous Game, Battle Royale, The Running Man, and the ancient Greek myths, where King Minos sent Athenian children (drawn randomly) as sacrifices to be devoured by the Minotaur. The essence of the story is timeless and speaks to why the books were so embraced. Where The Hunger Games does separate itself is with its hero.

Lawrence rose to stardom when she was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award for her stark portrayal of Ree Dolly in 2010's Winter's Bone. In Katniss Everdeen, Lawrence is playing a character with many of the same qualities. Katniss is old for her years, having had to take care of her sister, Primrose, while her mother wastes the years away, still shellshocked from her husband's death. Katniss provides for the family and Lawrence has the old soul and temperment to make Katniss believable as a caregiver and an adult.

Her finest scene in a film full of them may be the "reaping," when she volunteers as tribute after Prim is shockingly selected. Katniss gasps her sister's name from the crowd in disbelief and simultaneously screams "I volunteer as tribute!" There is not a moment of hesitation for the selfless big sister, and from this point on, she has us in her corner.

As Katniss and the male District 12 tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), embark on their journey to the Capitol and the Games, we are introduced to a slew of ancillary characters: Elizabeth Banks as the District 12 escort, Effie Trinket, Lenny Kravitz as the stylist, Cinna, and Woody Harrelson as the only living Hunger Games winner from District 12, Haymitch Abernathy. None of the characters are fleshed out very well, but they all become unanimously invested in Katniss as she wows the crowds with her beauty and impresses the judges with her panache by firing an arrow into a tight spot during training. Likewise, the 22 other tributes act as mere shadows, ornaments we never get to know. I couldn't help but wonder if the novel would've been better served as an HBO miniseries, like Game of Thrones, where each of the characters could've been treated justly.

Ross does handle the star-crossed lovers plot line exceptionally. The idea the masses will love Katniss and Peeta if they themselves love each other comes across well. Lawrence also does a fine job keeping Peeta at arm's length during training. Ross uses flashbacks to show their history, which establishes their relationship. As the two tributes become closer during the Games, it doesn't feel out of place in the narrative. The Games are a TV show after all and the love story fits within the context.

Perhaps the biggest question mark about this adaptation was how the violence of the novel would be treated. To gain a PG-13 rating, Ross could not be overt in displaying the child on child bloodshed. While the film pales in its violent depictions compared to Battle Royale, for example, it does a fine job of conveying the menace of the environment. The opening scene of the Games is especially fraught with peril as many of the tributes are picked off. Ross uses a bothersome shaky camera to stay away from the actual violent acts. Most of the killing happens out of frame. One school of thought is the violence could have been treated with more authenticity, more vision. However, this movie was never going to be made without a PG-13 rating, so the point is moot. You want more bloodshed? Rent Battle Royale.


See photos from the premiere of The Hunger Games:
  • Jennifer Lawrence in The Cinema Society & Calvin Klein Collection Host A Screening Of "The Hunger Games" - Inside Arrivals
  • Jennifer Lawrence in The Cinema Society & Calvin Klein Collection Host A Screening Of "The Hunger Games" - Inside Arrivals
  • Jennifer Lawrence in The Cinema Society & Calvin Klein Collection Host A Screening Of "The Hunger Games" - Inside Arrivals
  • Jennifer Lawrence in The Cinema Society & Calvin Klein Collection Host A Screening Of "The Hunger Games" - Inside Arrivals
  • Jennifer Lawrence in The Cinema Society & Calvin Klein Collection Host A Screening Of "The Hunger Games" - Inside Arrivals
  • Jennifer Lawrence in The Cinema Society & Calvin Klein Collection Host A Screening Of "The Hunger Games" - Inside Arrivals
  • Jennifer Lawrence in The Cinema Society & Calvin Klein Collection Host A Screening Of "The Hunger Games" - Inside Arrivals
  • Jennifer Lawrence in The Cinema Society & Calvin Klein Collection Host A Screening Of "The Hunger Games" - Inside Arrivals
View Lenny Kravitz Pictures »
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