If it's crap ... We'll tell you
“May the odds be ever in your favor.”
Set in a grim, futuristic dystopian society where the government controls its starving population with an annual event that is as massive in scale as the Olympics, THE HUNGER GAMES is a children’s battle to the death for more than just glory and honor, but for the chance to live another day.
The film effectively captures the bleak tone of the book but the choppy direction and the questionable liberties taken by the writers turned a promising and potentially powerful premise into a disappointingly under whelming product. The lone bright star, Jennifer Lawrence, is perfection as Katniss Everdeen. She exudes quiet strength without having to project false masculinity or become overtly sexualized in comparison to her female action movie counterparts. That’s the wonderful thing about this character; Katniss is a female character that is defined simply as a hero. She doesn’t have to be a man or a woman, she just happens to be a woman and a character that everyone wants to root for. Lawrence not only maintains the required steely toughness but more importantly, she brings sensitivity and naivety to Katniss, which makes for a more well rounded character. Sadly though, even the girl on fire could not save the movie from its own demise.
A sense of urgency may be found here but in the wrong places. It felt like the pacing was pushed too fast, as if getting to the finish line was more important than taking the time to tell a compelling story. The strength of the film lies within its quieter scenes, where we’re given an opportunity to slow down and examine the hardships, the HUNGER of these people’s daily lives and most importantly, why the games exist: to project a sense of false hope. The biting social commentary that elevated the book above other typical young adult fiction, among many other details, was lazily glossed over. It was a key ingredient that needed to be there in order to convey that this is more than just fluffy mainstream entertainment but rather, a commentary on our own contemporary society. Fellow Spillio T.C. De Witt puts it best, “The greatest science fiction stories were always masked as something fantastical, at the same time putting a mirror up to society and reflecting our inner most turmoil and ugliness.”
A big shame is that the film relied too heavily on the love triangle between Katniss, Gale, and Peeta. Not even a heavily emphasized aspect of the book, making it seem like a cheap attempt at cashing in on the teeny-bopper Twilight crowd, hindering its prospects of respectability as a stand alone story, for The Hunger Games is nothing like Twilight nor should it ever be associated with something so amateurish. Ultimately though, its downfall is the fumbling of the development of these character’s relationships with one another, especially that of Katniss and Rue, which were simply told in fragments. The filmmakers assume that the audience should just hurry up and play catch up rather than letting us into these kids’ minds and hearts to further understand them on a more personal level. The threat of death does not come off as imminent or terrifying due to most of the kills occurring off-screen or heavily edited, as if it were purposefully censored. The deaths lacked the appropriate emotional gut punch since these characters were just hollow, cardboard strangers to begin with as opposed to being fully fleshed out human beings who’s fates we actually had emotional investments in.
A way to measure a good translation of a book to a film is by looking at the film itself and judging whether or not it can stand alone on its own merits. Ideally, one wouldn’t need the book to understand or enjoy the film. However, that’s not the case here as it felt like we were playing fill-in-the-blanks for 2 ½ hours. A chance to tell a timely, emotionally resonating story and to showcase a strong female heroine was all botched by missed opportunities and a lack of focus. Who knows what would’ve happened if this were in the hands of a different director or writer, maybe they would’ve remembered the characteristics that made THE HUNGER GAMES such a worldwide phenomenon. As upsetting as a movie about kids killing kids should be, it was shockingly bland.