Written by Lee Clifford
A lot of books being made into movies lately, huh? With the success of franchises like Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire (known to some as “A Game of Thrones”) and, I even dare say, Twilight, this has been an exciting last few years for literature and cinema. One medium, only a few years ago thought to be all but dead by some audiences, has been getting put back into the limelight by another medium. As an aspiring author myself I find this very exciting because people are reading again, and there’s just an extra depth put in to movies that are based on literatures… for the most part… Twilight’s still shlock at best.
The Hunger Games is based on a novel trilogy that, admittedly, I have not read, so going in I only knew what I’d seen in trailers, but I think this was a case of not going in knowing what to expect that paid off because I was very impressed with the subtle and brilliant writing of this tale.
So anyone who’s seen the trailers knows the basics: central city that’s the home of the rich and powerful, outlaying districts where the poor and oppressed live. Every year two “tributes” from each district, 12 in total, are selected and compete in a battle to the death, where the winner is promised luxury and freedom while the losers, well, die.
The narrative follows the adventure of Katniss Everdeen, a strong-willed young woman who has a great balance of survival skills and compassion. When her sister is selected to take part in the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place.
The events follow as Katniss is bred to be a part of the death match, honing her skills but also making herself memorable to potential sponers, who can supply her with necessities while she’s in the games. Katniss provides a cynical look on the lifestyle of the wealthy, who literally watch people die for their entertainment, but does so in a way that doesn’t come across as pretentious. As the games begin, she finds herself at odds with alliances, injury and even the environment itself.
Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss is simply amazing. I admit I wasn’t sure what to expect going in with her as a lead because most people I know simply know her as “yeah, that girl from… crap what movie was that again… I forget what movie but I know I’ve seen her before!” Usually that’s not the best reputation to have going in as the lead protagonist, but she owns the character and flourishes as a hero that, really and truly, would not be a simple one to portray. Katniss is, as I said, strong but compassionate, two traits that can rarely co-exist well in cinema as one always outweighs the other, either making the character seem bland, or weak, but through great writing and terrific acting, she comes across as neither and gives a three dimensional character that audiences can truly enjoy. Also being able to handle the situations of her character’s own problems mixed with the cynicism of seeing how “the one percent” lives without coming across as pretentious is nigh impossible, but somehow she did it.
Jennifer is obviously the focal point of the story, but supporting roles by Wes Bentley, Woody Harrelson and even Lenny Kravitz create a world around Katniss that makes her even more likeable. Often a cast can be pulled down by their weakest performers, but all of the upfront roles are handled with a style and presentation that just makes them engorging, never making the audience think “oh man THIS guy again?”
The music was far from memorable in this film, I don’t remember any of the actual melodies outside of a part where Katniss is whistling, but the lack of music is made up for in the clever use of sound designing. When Katniss is overwhelmed as she goes out to be presented to the audience who will watch her battle, her nerves have made the world muted and inaudible. When a loud crash occurs, the subtle ringing in her ears mutes out all other sound. The main part of the story is told through her perspective, and even sharing audio sensations with the audience was a nice touch.
Costumes and environments are done very stylishly. The poor districts look like what they’re known for, mining, farming etc while the flamboyant city of wealth has an odd combination that looked like the product of a conference call between Tim Burton, Dr. Suess and Marilyn Manson (glam Manson not weird scary Manson). There’s an outlandish pizzaz to the wealthy, almost clown-like; whether this be intentional or a subtle way of how the rich look like clowns to the poor I’m not sure of as I haven’t read the books, but it just works somehow.
This movie is a unique example of style and substance; visuals border on the ridiculous at times but somehow it seems to fit. My only complaint is the frequent use of the shaky-cam, but it didn’t give me a headache so I’ll let it pass this time.
I was genuinely impressed with The Hunger Games, it’s not the greatest story I’ve ever been told, but it’s an interesting one. The story seems to borrow liberally from Metropolis, Lord of the Flies, The Condemned and even, if very lightly, Romeo and Juliet, but despite all these elements it still feels like something of its own. It’s smartly written and allows the audience to think instead of just having everything clubbed over their heads, but there’s nothing to think about that will make one dwell for more than a few minutes. It’s beautiful in its simplicity yet still has a subtle depth, again this isn’t the greatest movie I’ve ever seen, but I would happily see it again.