Review: The Hunger Games

So, I saw The Hunger Games. I saw it last week actually, but a vocal-immobilizing head cold has curtailed all extracurricular activities and I’m just now getting around to writing about it. Having sat on it for a week, my opinion of the film hasn’t improved. Having found the film to be relatively unengaging and somewhat annoying, I’m probably in the minority here, though I wouldn’t know, since I don’t care enough to read any more reviews of the film.

If you’ve been living under a rock and don’t know what The Hunger Games is, it’s only the most hotly anticipated literary adaptation to film since the final Harry Potter book. In a dystopian world, teenagers are forced to battle to the death in a televised tournament designed to squelch rebellion among the twelve districts, subservient to the central capital of Panem. Katniss is the bow-and-arrow wielding heroine around which the three Hunger Games books revolve; this is the first of the series.

Having read (and enjoyed) all three books, I was looking forward to the film. While I know a number of people (young and old) who’ve read the books, I found few outside of the books’ fan base who had any interest in watching a film with such a grim premise. I myself was curious to see how the film would handle the violence, which is so central to the story. I was looking forward to seeing the games, Panem, and the now familiar characters brought to life.

Alas, I have to say, I was mostly underwhelmed by director Gary Ross‘ interpretation of Suzanne Collins story. Sure, I was entertained while watching it, but as the film progressed I found myself missing the emotional impact I’d felt when reading the book. The dramatic high-points seemed glossed over. I felt increasingly disconnected from the story in a way I never was while reading the book, turning pages as fast as I could.

Granted, I realize that a book is a book and a movie can never perfectly replicate the reading experience. I’m fine with creators remastering source material to fashion something new, a fresh and original way to experience the story. But I just found the whole thing to be a big blur of wonky camera work and fight scenes, reducing it to a formula action film with half the heart and soul of the original story.

Part of the problem (for me) was the camera work, herky-jerky and spliced-and-diced to the extreme. I understand that the director wanted to convey the panic and pandemonium of the games (and I suspect avoid showing some of the more graphic violence on screen), but there could have been other ways to accomplish this without disconnecting viewers from the narrative (and in some cases make it difficult to follow what’s really going on). I’d heard complaints about the motion-sickness-inducing camerawork before I went, and I knew I was in agreement when the wavering camera shots began right from the start, in the opening scene of Katniss walking through her village. Really? She’s just walking through the village! One of the strengths of Collins’ story is the creativity she employed in creating this whole new world, the environment, characters, and the game itself. The crazy camera work and quick-fire editing prevents us from losing ourselves completely in the world of The Hunger Games. We’re continually jerked awake by mind-numbing visuals.

I wasn’t crazy about the acting either, though I thought Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks brought to life the more extreme characters of Panem. Jennifer Lawrence looked the part, but I thought she was fairly uninspired as Katniss. (When so much of a book contains the thoughts of the main character, I realize this is challenging to get on screen, but her character on film seemed far less complex than she did on paper.) I thought Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch was far too sympathetic and Lenny Kravitz was just downright boring as Cinna.

The final test: a week after seeing the film, it’s had no lasting effect on me, where the book had me thinking about it for weeks afterward.

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