- Movie Rating -

The Hunger Games (2012)

| March 26, 2012 | 0 Comments

The Hunger Games presents a dystopian future filled with gloom and doom, oppression and despair that is not likely to surprise anyone familiar with those presented in The Terminator, Mad Max, Gattaca, Metropolis, The Running Man, Logan’s Run, Brazil or 1984. Movies rarely, if ever, look into the future and portray how high man can reach. More frequently they are about how our governments and our technology will someday destroy us or turn us into slaves.

The presentation of mankind’s future in The Hunger Games is pretty bleak. The government of The United States has withered into an entity called Panem that is so brutal and so totalitarian that the populaces in separate districts are forced, once a year, to give up a tribute to a vicious nationwide contest of kill or be killed. The names of the combatants, one girl and one boy that range in age from 12 to 18, are chosen – rather cold-heartedly – by names drawn out of a fishbowl.

The game is essentially a bloody government-run reality television program in which mass audiences watch 24 young people sent out in to the woods with whatever resources they can get their hands on and try to kill each other. Twenty-three contestants will never go home again.

Our heroic focus falls on a pretty 16 year-old teenager, and convenient survivalist, named Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), whose skills at the games are telegraphed from the moment we get information that she can shoot a squirrel in the eye with a bow and arrow. At the selection process called “The Reaping” (where the names are drawn), Katniss volunteers to take the place of her 12 year-old sister Prim (Willow Shields) whose name is initially drawn. Personally, I think it would have been much more suspenseful to follow someone less equipped for the games, but they didn’t ask me.

The games are rather unpleasant. They involve pre-teens and current teens running around a wooded area dispatching each other with swords, knives, arrows, anything they can, any way they can. The obvious question of fairness never comes up as to how a small 12 year-old girl is expected to do battle with a large 18 year-old boy.  That question certainly never comes up from the nationwide audience who stands captivated in front of large screens that broadcast the event. These are meant to simultaneously entertain and to punish the population for the uprisings of the past.  Not much information is given about what happens to the winner of this contest but I have a feeling that a rash of psychologists will be needed but never provided.  Nor is there ever any voice from the outside to question these events.  We see the audiences ravenous over the spectacle but never a reaction from anyone over the death of one of the contestants, except one that incites a very brief riot in one of the districts.

The Hunger Games is based on the phenomenally successful teen book by Suzanne Collins, which I’ve read and I had fundamental problems with both.  While I enjoyed them as entertainment, I was somewhat disturbed by its moral implications.  When the contestants step off their starting pads and into the game, some are required to hack at one another with swords and knives.  That image is disturbing and so are images of a girl eaten alive by wasps, a boy eaten alive by dogs, and one kid who has his neck snapped as punishment for his incompetence.

What works in The Hunger Games are the outward elements.  The look of the film, especially the totalitarian Capitol from which the games are presented, has the look and scope of a vast futurescape.  The interiors are intricately decorated down to the last detail so that we really feel as if we are peeking into the future. I was especially impressed with one effect involving something called “synthetic flames” that creates one dazzling special effect. I won’t spoil it for you.

The cast is loaded with reliable actors – good ones – starting with Elizabeth Banks as the nauseatingly chipper Capitol emissary; Woody Harrelson as a drunken former Hunger Games champion; Donald Sutherland as the pompous president; Wes Bentley as the gameskeeper whose look seems borrowed from Satan; Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’ stylist; and Stanley Tucci as the game’s purple-haired host.  At the film’s the center is Jennifer Lawrence who brings a lot of her Oscar nominated character Ree Dolly from Winter’s Bone to this film.  She has a focused gaze and a solid screen presence.  She anchors the film, and her casting in this role was a masterstroke. It is my hope that her performance in this film will inspire people to take a look at her performance in that one.

Gary Ross is a director whose work I have admired in the past. He directed the wonderful Seabiscuit and the terribly underrated Pleasantville. Here he takes his first foray into action.  The problem is that his action scenes are often confusing and disorganized.  Two people roll on the ground fighting and the camera whips around and draws in so close that we can’t tell we are looking at.  Problematic as well is his insistence on the use of shakey-cam.  The opening scenes employ the shaky-cam technique in an effort to establish a visual disorientation that, for me, felt more like a distraction.

Those problems aside, I have to say that this is a very entertaining movie. My problem in reviewing a film like this is the reservation that I am watching one piece of a three chapter story.  Some elements are presented and never examined leaving me to wonder if they will be picked up in the subsequent installments.  The film ends on an extremely arbitrary note that really should have come packaged with a note that it is “to be continued” so as to give viewers unfamiliar with the books a little more orientation.  The problem is that I must contain this film within itself, and I find it to be a very entertaining film that I had extreme reservations about. I wish the film had expressed more that there are other parts of the story that are going to follow. Maybe when we get to Catching Fire next year some of the unexplained elements of this film will come to light.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.