Friday, January 8, 2016

The Hunger Games Film Review


Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland
Series: The Hunger Games
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Length: 142 minutes

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May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

The Hunger Games never remains consistent, and this basically sums up the key problem with the film – setting a strong emotional tone one scene, but not being consistent with that dark emotional tone throughout.  Additionally the film can’t seem to find a stylistic middle ground, causing a lot of issues with the message and the way the film looks on screen. The film version of the Hunger Games was very loyal to its source material. It’s social commentary is advanced for the age group it targets, and could provide hours of debate for people who like dig deep into things.  This film entertains as a dark dystopian science fiction story, but it never excels.

Set in the future, the Hunger Games takes place in Panem where the ruling government forces two young people from each of their twelve districts to participate in the Hunger Games each year.  In the Hunger Games contestants fight to the death and only one person comes out alive.
In District 12, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to participate in the games, to spare her younger sister, who’s name is drawn from the reaping.  Along with Peeta Mellark, the young man selected from her district, they each plan to survive the Hunger Games with their lives in tact.

The Hunger Games is a film that is critical of many serious issues in our world today.  The dangers of manipulative media, the effects of violence on a young person’s mind, and the struggles of poverty are all prominently featured.  It’s what makes this story, a story, for everybody and not just the young adults that it was heavily marketed towards. With emotionally heavy subjects to work with, it’s important how a film handles all of these issues. While the Hunger Games is able to pull some of these off with dramatic flourish, it struggles like a fish out of water with others.

For example at the beginning of the film during the reaping – every thing after the moment Primrose’s name is called is handled well. The film score stops playing, there is very little audio or dialogue; the silence combined with the knowledge that a family was just destroyed creates a genuinely sympathetic and scary moment for the audience.  In short the film does about as good of a job as it could do during the picking of tributes from District 12.

But the ten minutes of film before Primrose’s name is spoken … those scenes aren’t done well. The parts of the film showcasing  the relationship between Katniss and Primrose – scenes that are meant to make you care more about them – feel forced and artificial. Not helping matters was the directors choice to film the first ten minutes of the movie almost entirely, and unnecessarily, with a shaky camera style. This back and forth on the quality of the emotional scenes, and unpalatable filming techniques, are but one of many examples of inconsistency that occur throughout the Hunger Games.

Sometimes the film, which is very loyal to the books, is hurt by its loyalty.  The appearance of the Capitol citizens doesn’t mesh well visually with the film’s dark themes.  Yes, in the books the Citizens of the capitol have colorful hair and wear extravagant clothes, this doesn’t translate well visually and ended up being distracting and humorous for the wrong reasons.  The film also spends a lot of time focusing on details in the book that don’t serve the story much in the film medium.

For example the drawn out sequence where Katniss and Peeta are waiting to be given a rating for the lethality.  Well this was a memorable event in the book, it does little to aid in the film’s message or the overall story. The other big issue was Katniss’s fire dress – the CG fire in those scenes looks terrible – this scene in particular did not do justice what so ever to their book counterparts.

The actors are able to hold their own, but there really aren’t any standout performances.  Jennifer Lawrence embodies the spirit of Katniss Everdeen from the books – and honestly I couldn’t think of anyone else who would be better at this role – but even she has a number of moments where she is clearly struggling. I could say the same for Woody Harrelson as Haymitch as well.

James Newton Howard’s film score works when he’s allowed to do just strictly classically inspired music.  There are a few scenes with some jazzy and rock musical influences that just clash with everything he wrote before it.  The most important thing though is that he came up with a memorable four note motif for the Mockingjays, and that he did.  I look forward to seeing how he develops this motif and the other four note Mockingjay variation in future films.

I have to applaud the Hunger Games’ progressive attitude.  The exploration of the world’s darker side, and having a strong female lead like Katniss – all in a big budget film – makes the Hunger Games feel like the dawn of a new era. Seriously when’s the last time you saw a female lead put a male on her back (metaphorically speaking) in a big budget action film?

Despite a lot of consistency issues with the dramatics, the Hunger Games still manages to tell an engaging story.  It provides a strong role model for young women, and its exploration of important social issues will hopefully inspire people to think about the world we live in.

Score: 7.8

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