[pullquote3 quotes=”true” align=”center”]Movie Review[/pullquote3]
The much-awaited spark of the new would-be slobbery adolescent saga has finally descended upon us: the first of three Hunger Games films.
Having read the first book of the series approximately a year ago, I have regressed to only remembering the basic story arc and most characters’ names and backgrounds. As most book-to-movie transmutations are frankly unable to match the book’s fervor wholly, I thought this would be the perfect state in which to experience the teenage bloodbath extravaganza. Remembering what I did, I had cultivated some rather cynical predictions for the film; because I had mainly chagrined Suzanne Collins’ doubtful mastery of name creation and her repeated usage of juvenile themes, often prompting snorts of derision, I expected the movie to strike a similar chord. I was perversely waiting for the dramatically polar epic-to-a-fault battle scenes juxtaposed against painfully-acted heartfelt conversations.
Unfortunately—or fortunately, however you look at it—my hopes were not realized in Seabiscuit director Gary Ross’ creation. Instead, I found myself passively allowing a consistently bland film to wash over me and my fellow moviegoers. Yes, there were moments when the audience shared a gasp, a chuckle, or a shriek, but overall the feelings were not as genuine as I am accustomed to. The most heavily disappointing aspect, perhaps from where much of the banality stemmed, was the physical quality of the filmmaking.
An egregious, heavy-handed employment of “shaky-cam” (most likely to ensure a PG-13 rating) managed to ensure a few things for viewers: most of the killing would not be fully on-screen, much of the action would be hard to figure out, and much of the audience would be making full-use of empty popcorn containers as barf bags. From its first use in the beginning of the film to set a dystopian milieu, my stomach churned in-tune with the seemingly Parkinson’s-afflicted cameraman’s choice of focus. Its most obnoxious usage occurred during every action scene, where, in order to prevent too much blood, the filming style also prevented anyone from being able to figure out what, precisely, was going on. Especially in tense two-or-three-person mini-battles, where the ability to reason out who is holding the knife and who was just stabbed mercilessly becomes rather important to the film’s plot, this method of directorial restraint really didn’t work. It also means, also against my early predictions, that this film is rather unfortunately not a good candidate for IMAX treatment. In fact, to put this in IMAX might become a public health concern.
The good news that comes out of my failed forecasts is that the film is never laughable; instead it may be strange, bizzare, or boring. This fact is not due to a lack of acting prowess. With a laundry list of A-list celebrities appearing and Jennifer Lawrence at the helm, I was pleasantly surprised by the emotional, convincing performances throughout the length of the work. Aside from a strangely, portentously wooden conversation between Katniss (Lawrence) and her hunting companion Gale (Liam Hemsworth), even the crazily styled Capital denizens pulled their weight realistically, especially Elizabeth Banks.
The book had a lot of potential fodder for a movie adaptation to screw up or make laughable, but one of the best things about this adaptation is that it takes itself very seriously. Dumb names in my opinion, like “Peeta Mellark,” were said without pause and with realistic pronunciation such that the audience took them as normal in the scope of the film. Ridiculous Capitol outfits seemed like a realistic step forward in fashion, with heavy influences from Marie Antoinette’s closet and muted neon shades.
The overall tone was very somber, which is fitting for a film about 24 tween-to-teenagers battling to the death as a symbol of power of a totalitarian government. The somberness is both where the film’s strength and flatness branch from; it acts as a leveler for what could have been hilariously over-acted and unrealistic or extremely, edge-of-the-seat epic. Instead, the audience is fed well-acted but forgettable dialogue and is barely present during important action sequences, leaving viewers feeling detached but politely interested.
I will say the beginning half of the film was better than the second—surprising, because halfway through is precisely when the Games begin. No, before all the juicy violence gets underway is when the audience feels most affected; somewhat shockingly, some of the moments from the previews are the ones that connect best within the context of the full film. For instance, when Katniss volunteers in place of her sister’s to participate in the 74th Games, Lawrence’s incredible nonverbal acting skills, paired with the masterfully convincing work of Willow Shields as Primrose, her sister, I was close to tears. The real-ness here is absolutely mind-boggling. It is also rather depressing, a feeling that doesn’t leave even when the action begins.
What was most boggling about the film was its inclusion of choice elements, such as the mockingjay symbol, Tracker Jackers, and the casual mentioning of how many times a certain boy or girl’s name was entered into the Hunger Games lottery. Audience members who have not read the book will feel like they are missing something, because they are. As someone who has read the book, I was more annoyed than excited that I knew the back-stories to these symbols; a movie should stand alone from its source material, not serve to confuse potential new fans.
All in all, The Hunger Games was very worth seeing in theaters, if only because of its incredible cast and sobering message. I’m not sure I would pay $9.75 to repeat the experience, but to see it once was two-and-a-half-hours’ worth of time well spent.