There is a certain irony that audiences will sit revulsed by the society depicted in The Hunger Games this weekend because it enjoys watching the blood sport of children while real-world audiences have forked over millions to enjoy a film about — the blood sport of children. (Yes, there are obvious differences too. One isn’t real for starters.)
The film, brought to the big screen from Suzanne Collins’ first of a series of novels, is absolutely critic proof. It has a dedicated, devoted audience of readers who are nearly automatic ticket buyers and they are destined to love the film, and those that will come after, which are already poised to make serious cake. They will also champion the movie and see it many times over. Legions will enter theaters wrapped in tribute tees already knowing, before the film plays, it will be the “best film ever.” (Some of this might sound familiar to Middle-earth movie audiences!)
But is it any good?
The books and the film are less-than-obvious young adult subject matter. In a post-apocalyptic future, the government demands tribute from each of 12 districts to serve as a symbol of its continued power over citizens. Tributes are paid in the currency of children, a male and female from each district, to fight in a to-the-death arena battle.
Katniss Everdeen — a reluctant and brave volunteer for the games — played by the low-key Jennifer Lawrence, shines and never lets viewers realize she is acting. She brings the vulnerable toughness she masterfully displayed in Winter’s Bone, yet makes Katniss a completely new character. She is, without a doubt, the best thing here among a lot of good stuff. Performances are rich across the board, particularly Stanley Tucci (like always) as the scene-stealing, effervescent analyst and talk show host of the games, Caesar Flickerman.
But the whole film rests on Lawrence and she shoulders the load and entirely holds up the material. Her absence would have deflated some of the effectiveness here and left it a much less-quality film (closer to the level of the teen angst film trilogy it often gets compared to and definitely eclipses.) Without her, some dialog or even scenes could have played much less authentically and could have strayed off the path and into cheese. Director and screenwriter Gary Ross (Collins also is credited) translates the material more than adapts it, which will no doubt please ardent book fans, but prevents anything organically creative from happening in the writing and direction of the film. The safe choice works though. The cast of characters remains intact which is great for adoring fans, but it also means viewers get too little time to get to know everybody else in the story who isn’t Katniss.
It feels like some of the performances were left sitting in a digital file (instead of the old cutting room floor) and a longer home theater version of the film is an interesting and inevitable reality, especially considering the economic explosion of the film’s opening weekend. A few editing choices were jarring, leaving some dialog or cuts feeling as if important elements are missing – and I would bet money they are.
The large, unexplored cast means, because of time constraints, children dying in the area are only faces to viewers, not people. We are unable to feel the loss of characters we never knew. Oh and — if you aren’t familiar with the story — children do die.
If the film’s premise of kids killing kids for sport (and political purposes) isn’t disturbing enough, know too: there is violence. Usually the film looks away and displays blood rather than fatal, gaping wounds but we see open, dead eyes and weapons swinging, even if we don’t always see where they land. One death by insect is easily the hardest to watch.
Despite not being a perfect movie, it is absolutely entertaining, contains genuine emotional content, a compelling story, more-than-solid performances and a dynamic lead actress who makes all the flaws only minor quibbles. Book lovers will recognize what they love and probably will not ache too much over characters getting short-changed because they can easily fill in the blanks. With a tall order to strike a balance of pleasing fans and telling a story to new viewers, it is a notable achievement and there may yet be a better version of it for home viewing.
The Dwarf Lords who rule the all-volunteer, not-for-profit TheOneRing.net from a secret underground cave complex, thought readers might find some value in a review of “The Hunger Games,” because of a crossover audience that likes books and films. Look for film release summaries and reviews from Senior Staff Writer Larry D. Curtis (MrCere@TheOneRing.net) each Friday.