directed by Gary Ross
Okay, okay! I saw The Hunger Games! I didn’t particularly want to, and I only halfheartedly began the first book of the Suzanne Collins trilogy as a result of peer pressure, but I decided last night to just get it over with and watch the filmic juggernaut. And you know what? I was shocked at how surprisingly not bad the movie actually was. This is not to say that the movie was, for me, phenomenal or mind blowing, but it possessed enough gusto and grit to keep me involved and, despite my flawed preconceptions, rooting for these damn kids.
Not having read the books, I was frightened by the images in the trailers: the glossy, manic, cartoonish dystopia as imagined by a Gary Numan obsessed teen scrawling sci-fi addled images beneath a black light circa 1982. The Fifth Element veneer by way of The Running Man bleakness. In this regard, my fears proved right, but I have heard that this aesthetic matches the books, so I guess I’m stuck on that one. I have a hard time with these fluorescent and glittery fever dreams of the future where everyone dresses like Lady Gaga, instead leaning strongly in favor of the lived in realism of Gattaca or CowboyBebop. Hell, even Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was believable, even after Joanna Cassidy wears that plastic jacket.
Nevermind the tangent, because very little of the film exists in the ludicrously fashioned Capitol. The Hunger Games, as we all know, is like the World Series of violence, a battle to the last kid standing where pairs of teens from all of Panem’s 12 districts compete for glory, and the grim promise of adulthood. What’s Panem, you ask? It’s the nation that grew out of the wreckage of environmental calamity, global war and limited natural resources, and The Hunger Games are a penance that each district must pay to atone for a failed rebellion in the not so distant past.
Enter the protagonist and source of the movie’s triumph, Katniss, played to perfection by Jennifer Lawrence (who earned major street cred for her astounding turn in Winter’s Bone). Lawrence is the essence of gorgeous grit, an actress with the ability to be devastatingly lovely, fragile, yet simultaneously fierce, tough as nails, a fighter to the last. Watching Lawrence is like watching Sigourney Weaver in Alien, or Uma Thurman in, well, nearly anything. In the hands of a lesser actress, this film would have fallen apart like a 12 year old at the hands of Cato (filmy inside joke).
I am not going to get into too much detail with regard to plot and twists, but I will say that the absurdity with which the Game Maker (a reliably sub par Wes Bentley) conjures beasts from thin air may cause more than a few eyes to roll, while the editing diminishes the intense (and gore-less) battle scenes to mere incoherence at times (as many films seem to do these day). The film tries valiantly to tread a PG-13 line whilst delivering on the moral darkness and bleak cynicism that the books promise (I presume). This may be where it falls short the most, as Ross and Collins (who consulted on the film) attempt to restrain the horror of a future in which the madness and bloodlust of such sport is a national coagulant, but thanks to a stellar supporting cast (Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks), the film breathes smoke in places that surprised me.
Was I expecting to hate this film? No, but I was bracing myself for the possibility. Has watching this film turned me off of finishing the book? I think the answer to that, thanks largely to Lawrence, is decidedly hell no. I can only hope that the rest of this series finds its stride for the second and third films.