As with any movie that is hyped beyond belief, I went into the theater to see The Hunger Games a bit skeptically. The trailer certainly looked good, but I’ve been fooled before. I’m relieved to report that I was pleasantly surprised by the book-turned-movie.
Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games focuses on a teenage girl named Katniss who lives in “District 12”, one of the fenced in Districts in what once was America, but is now living under the malicious thumb of The Capitol. As a way of almost taunting the general populace in the face of a failed rebellion, The Capitol holds an annual event called The Hunger Games on the date of the aforementioned failed coup. These games consist of each district choosing a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in a contest to the death, last man standing style.
Not an original story, you say? Echoes of Spartacus and Battle Royale can certainly be felt here, but let’s be frank — there are no original stories anymore. What held my attention throughout the movie was the character of Katniss, who was very easy to root for and definitely humanized events throughout the movie quite well, despite all the child maiming going on.
Though I have not read the source novel, others have told me that director Gary Ross gets the tone of The Hunger Games just right — it’s a grounded, thoughtful and sometimes quite emotional film. And it’s no wonder, as the movie has quite the dark scenario. I’d be a little disturbed if the film felt light-hearted, to be completely honest. It’s definitely not your typical “Hollywood-ized” film.
The one complaint that I had, at least as the movie started, was the extreme use of the ‘Shaky-Cam’ technique. This was obviously done to lessen the amount of violence shown on screen, which likely would’ve alienated the core audience it was being aimed at, but at times, it was very distracting and hard to follow what was going on on screen.
Of course, I would be remiss in the review without mentioning that there is somewhat of a romance angle going on in the film between the main characters Katniss and Peeta, with Katniss’ best friend Gale being somewhat of a third wheel to the relationship. Not to spoil anything, but the former ends up being quite the major plot device that doesn’t quite feel out of place but was unexpected regardless.
The casting of the movie was done pretty well; I didn’t have any major complaints about any of the actors or actresses. Jennifer Lawrence was the standout here to me, delivering a performance full of the desperation and drive to prove herself that the source character had. Woody Harrelson’s appearance as Peeta and Katniss’ mentor was also a great, injecting just the right sort of fatherly advice at a perfect moment.
That’s not to say Hunger Games was without problems — besides the shaky-cam, the movie doesn’t quite have the exciting ending I was looking for, leaving me with a “Oh, it’s over?” feeling rather than being hyped for the sequel. Director Gary Ross also showed some inexperience with action sequences, and it's no surprise looking at his previous work which included Seabiscuit and Pleasantville. Though I can see that he was trying not to glamorize the events of the games, some dynamic camera work would have made some of the physical scenes feel a bit more tense.
Overall, I was very impressed with the first movie in this series — it has delivered on its source material that stands out in its genre for its grim setting. Both fans of the books and fans new to the adventures of Katniss Everdeen should find The Hunger Games entertaining. I look forward to seeing the next chapter play out on the Silver Screen. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to reading the book!
FINAL RATING: 4/5 Stars
Dustin Steiner is GameZone's eSports Correspondent (maybe that's why they let me review this? :P)! Follow him on Twitter @SteinerDustin to talk about competitive gaming, The Hunger Games or whatever else!