In the film industry there is a major trend these days: adapting books to film, especially young-teen literature. Making movies from books has been around for decades; it makes sense, great books seem like logical wells of content for film, and many books have been adapted into great movies (though many do fall short). However, teen-fiction has become one of the most popular genres for new movies these days.
Ever since Harry Potter, audiences have been enamored with watching teenagers in larger-than-life stories, facing dire obstacles, and growing into young adults. Personally, I find this obsession strange and in some instances disturbing. Twilight is already maligned by the press and internet, but let’s be honest, it’s a bit odd seeing people fawn over fictional characters and their real-life actors — especially by middle-aged women. I don’t understand the draw of Twilight, but I’m sure it has something to do with the feeling of innocent love associated with the teenage years being lionized by a book series.
So, when I walked in to the theater to watch The Hunger Games, this is what I was expecting to see. A Twilight-esque, dopey love story in which audiences will once again be able to obsess over minors in a crazy sci-fi setting.
Luckily, this isn’t what I got.
What I saw was an interesting sci-fi flick, filled with challenging themes, dark story line, and a mature political back story.
The story revolves around a dystopic future in America, where the country has collapsed, and after reforming the remaining population into 13 separate districts controlled by a central Capital. The Capital is an affluent, futuristic paradise, whereas the Districts are downtrodden and impoverished, with citizens working long days in dangerous jobs solely for food. Prior to the events of the movie, the Districts rebelled, resulting in the destuction of the 13th district. To keep the population in check, each year one male and one female, aged 12-18, are picked from the remaining 12 districts in a raffle to participate in a gladiatorial-esque game show called The Hunger Games, where the children fight to the death in order to win riches for them and their district. The Games are broadcast throughout the country, and in the capital especially, the Games have become a massive entertainment event.
Whether intentional or not, the premise opens up real-world questions about everything from the government, to socio-economic strife, to the media and even the ‘Twilight’ craze in a roundabout way, but none of that is forced or even that important to the plot; it’s there for the people who want/need it, but for everyone else this will just be a movie about overcoming the odds.
What struck me most about the film was how well acted it was. It’s become a stereotype that films from this ‘genre’ suffer from poor acting. The Hunger Games does not. Filled with talent from established actors like Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Southerland, as well as excellent performances from young actors Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss Everdeen) and Josh Hutcherson (as Peeta Mellark). Never once did I feel I was watching a “teen movie,” largely because of the great acting.
Visually, the movie is great. Taking place mostly in beautiful forests or futuristic cities, the The Hunger Games was always pleasing to the eye. The futuristic tech is cool, and doesn’t take any leaps in logic to believe. The costumes, while being a bit over the top, are still wonderfully designed and visually stunning. Sometime, they look like they were ripped out of a comic book or videogame.
In fact, the entire movie comes off very videogame-y. The arena (a giant forest) is scattered with weapons, and the children in the Hunger Games get “drops” in the form of parachutes filled with medicine and food. On top of that, a command center oversees the entire event, manifesting traps, fires, and animals to create further obstacles for the entertainment of the capital. Whenever a child dies, their picture is displayed digitally in the sky above the arena, and the eccentric announcer Ceasar Flickerman (Tucci) offers color commentary for the ‘program.’
My only criticism was with what wasn’t in the movie. Many times, I felt the children did not properly convey the emotion of facing imminent death and being forced to murder purely for the entertainment of the affluent citizens of the capital. There’s some, but it’s brief and not fleshed out enough. On top of that, despite enjoying the movie, throughout its duration a voice in the back of my head kept saying “this doesn’t make sense.” By that I mean, the premise was missing some key points explaining why the game exists, why children are the ones picked, or what it all means in a broader sense. I was fortunate enough to have seen it with a fan of the books, so I was filled in on all this on the ride home, but those who have not read the books will definitely be missing important details.
However, The Hunger Games focuses almost entirely on the “Hunger Games” event itself, and that part of the story it does very well. All in all, the movie was good. It wasn’t amazing, and at a 2 hours and 20 minutes run time, it felt it’s length. However, the movie surprised me, proving The Hunger Games series is not just another melodramatic teen-fiction story. I enjoyed the movie and am interested to see where the story goes next.