Movie Review: The Hunger Games- A Futuristic Film That Has Enough Dark Themes and Competent Acting to Make it Relevant and Engaging

At first glance at the new film franchise The Hunger Games there is very little originality to be witnessed considering the core concept is a rendition on past 70s and 80s criticisms on violence and the media such as The Running Man, Rollerball, or Death Race and the presentation is done in the formula similar to the Twilight saga. However, that first glance is a bit deceiving because most of the elements inside the film set it apart from being compared to those other films. Comparing The Hunger Games to Twilight simply based on demographic targeting would be staggeringly unfair to the Twilight movies if that comparison considered the thematic relevance and acting. These two essential aspects (theme and competent acting) are what make director Gary Ross’s adaptation of the beloved Suzanne Collins book series a worthwhile adventure to get immersed in. While the formula is a tad predictable and some of the creative choices are somewhat questionable, there is no doubting the strength of our lead Heroine Jennifer Lawrence’s acting abilities to take us through a future Orwellian world of elitism, control, and entertainment.

The plot of The Hunger Games is rather dark when pondered long enough considering it deals with young adults being offered as tribute in a game to the death. This nightmarish scenario is televised all across the Dictator controlled world as a reality television show that has fallen down a moral slippery slope. Sprinkle in a love story between two protagonists who didn’t necessarily choose their fate and you have a formula for audience willingness to root for the underdogs who both continue to show compassionate sensibilities in a game that demands callousness. And while a Twilight-esque love story might make some people’s eyes roll it is handled with a mature care in The Hunger Games aided by the flip in gender roles as the woman becomes the reserved figure and the man wears his heart on his sleeve. Thank the acting capabilities of both Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson to make this a believable connection rather than the forced and laughable romance between Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.

Lawrence and Hutcherson aren’t the only acting heroes of this movie because the supporting cast also has a lot to do with the success of the presentation. An unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks and an always reliable Woody Harrelson bring a delightful presence of humor and character complexity that isn’t quite standard in these teen-centered dramas and adventures. Stanley Tucci is always a stand out and does so throughout The Hunger Games as the always smiling master of ceremonies. But for every character we spend a lot of time with there is unfortunately some that we aren’t even close to getting to know well. This is probably a specific problem for the film (not the book) where some of the other contestants in our game to the death are sort of bypassed in development or treated as audience assumed roles, such as the character of Rue or the assumed evilness of the strong player alliance. There is nothing wrong with assumption but it doesn’t translate as storytelling strength on the big screen. A problem of this nature in the cinema can be told with action and sometimes the action throughout The Hunger Games wasn’t as telling as it should have been.

Some of the creative choices chosen by director Gary Ross in relation to capturing the violence seemed a bit disconnected. When you want to show subjective horror to violence in a film you usually tune out the sound entirely as the horror around you unfolds and becomes a sort of out of body experience such as in Saving Private Ryan. But this tactic was used in the opening to the games where many people die as the camera barely captures any of it with guerilla style shooting and a Bourne style editing. To show this opening in detail would have probably given The Hunger Games an R-rating which would have ruined targeting the core demographic for this film. It doesn’t mean it can’t be criticized for not showcasing the actual violence that needed to be fully experienced to see just how dangerous some of the fellow contestants actually were. These creative camera and presentation choices don’t necessarily detract from the enjoyment of the film but it is a point where it could have been strengthened in relation to conveying the violent themes and the essential understanding of all the characters.

The Hunger Games, while only a tad formulaic and predictable, certainly has some themes that are relevant for contemplation today. It is clear there is a government in the film that has enough power to give you anything you want and take everything away from you as we see supplies and food being distributed by the few to the many. The critique of modern television and the apathetic nature of people are showcased in the brutal reality show game as people put odds on who will live and who will die. But most of all it shows two people trying so hard to hold onto their moral and individual selves when the world outside is demanding they change. While there is probably no doubt that the adventure of reading the book is far more desirable than the movie it is certainly safe to say that the film of The Hunger Games has enough thought provoking scenarios and competent acting to make it a worthwhile cinematic journey that will have plenty waiting in anticipation for the next installment.

Grade: B

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