"The Hunger Games", the first of a young adult novel trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, makes it’s arrival on the big screen this weekend. That means if you plan to go expect a lot of teens and pre-teens in attendance. Not having read the novels, this review is based solely on the film itself. (read wikipedia’s entry which includes differences between the film and novel here). Those who have read the books have told me the film is different and omits some major details. One example is that the film never outright explains the process behind the hunger games and why they are titled as such.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is toward the end of her Hunger Games eligibility. Each district must provide two young adults aged 12-18, a male and female, to be offered up as tributes. These tributes then have to fight the others to the death until there is only one victor. Katniss volunteers as tribute because her younger sister, Primrose, gets chosen in her first year of eligibility. The film spends a great deal of time in the lead up to the hunger games making the film extremely front heavy. It takes forever for the games to actually begin. One of the reasons it’s front heavy is that they want to show the spectacle and tradition that are all associated with the games but it could have been quicker and in much less time. In that sense, “The Hunger Games” could have taken a page or two from Paul Verhoeven’s classic sci-fi satire “Starship Troopers” which kept things moving at a quick pace while showing a lot of information. “The Hunger Games” could have also used more humor as it is, the film is too dry to hit its targets like reality shows and media violence. The film wants to be a cross between “1984”, TV’s Survivor, and “The Running Man” (and to some extent Sidney Lumet’s “Network”) but fails to reach the heights it sets for itself.
Jennifer Lawrence does a capable job as Katniss but the professionals in the supporting cast show up the young actors easily. Woody Harrelson as Katniss’ mentor scores some mild laughs in his role. One qualm however is with his fake looking hairdo. Elizabeth Banks seems miscast in a bizarre role as Effie Trinket. However, Toby Jones and Stanley Tucci are funny as game commentator’s moderators. Wes Bentley (the plastic bag guy from “American Beauty”, remember him?) seems like an odd choice as MC of the Hunger games and man behind the scenes. Donald Sutherland is ok as evil President Snow.
All in All, “The Hunger Games” has all the elements but is lacking an edge to the proceedings. If ever there was such a thing as a hard PG-13, “The Hunger Games” is it. However despite the violence this is pretty tame stuff replete with a teenage love triangle. Despite some fantastical set pieces and what seems to be a large budget, it seems to never really take off like it should. It’s hard to imagine that it will find as big as an audience among adults as it has with it's built in teen audience. That said, many will check it out due to the notoriety of the novels and the massive ad campaign that Lionsgate put behind it.
Bottom line: Overlong by a good half hour, “The Hunger Games” may please fans of the book as well as younger audiences but everyone else might find it very well lacking. Fans of the book might rate this a must see but everyone else may find this more worth a rental.
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