It seems as though I have been writing a lot about young adult film adaptations. Although it could have something to do with the recent uptick in quantity, we just had “Maze Runner” last month and the one before that was “The Giver” and “If I Stay”. (It doesn’t help matters that I’ve been reviewing the series of “Harry Potter”), I’m starting to feel as though I tend to repeat myself in some of these observations and critiques.
Whatever is trending is when usually you’ll see a slew of imitators left in their wake. After “Harry Potter” there was “Percy Jackson” trying to catch some success off a very similar audience. Now after “Hunger Games” was a rip roaring success there have been several similar themed movies, like the aft for mentioned “Giver” and “Maze Runner” and the earlier 2014 release, “Divergent”. However none of these titles have yet to challenge its predecessor, “The Hunger Games”. Now in just a little under a month away the beginning of the end starts with “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1”. It seemed like a fitting time to go back and review the first two entries in the series. “The Hunger Games” is a thoughtful, expertly crafted, and thrilling dystopian adventure that’s themes and ideas are carefully woven into the ingenious narrative.
“The Hunger Games” (as many science fiction stories do) take place in a dystopian future where after years of rebellion and war, what was once the former United States of America, is now the “great” nation of Panem, where it’s capital is surrounded by twelve other districts. Every year each district must offer up two tributes (a male and female between the age of 12 and 18) to compete in the annual Hunger Games, however this is no honor. The Hunger Games is a brutal event where each person might survive in an arena where it’s a fight to the death until the last (boy or girl) is standing.
Many have pointed out it’s similarities to the Japanese film “Battle Royale” (of which many in the United States did not see) but if it did draw any inspiration from that title (which again I doubt) this strobes along so confidently in itself that you’ll forget about any sort of similarity and get sucked into the layered world of “The Hunger Games”. Perhaps the saying “great minds think alike” has some bearing with this case.
Our protagonist is Katniss Everdeen, played expertly by (then) Oscar nominated actress, Jennifer Lawrence, as she offers herself up as tribute to compete in the 74th annual Hunger Games. Not driven politically or for the desire of fame and fortune but to take the place of her young sister whom would surely die in the Games. Katniss, a strong, caring but sometimes hotheaded young women, has to play everything for smiles in hopes of getting sponsorship in hopes of gaining an edge in the games.
This is a young adult movie that doesn’t know it’s a young adult movie. It doesn’t cater to its younger crowds making it instead very accessible to older audiences and bordering the violence about as high as a PG-13 rating can go. Meanwhile it’s themes are meant to be a reflection on our own society. How far does reality TV and real life go before they intersect? Will people be craving real life violence as their form of entertainment? Many though provoking idea are explored here, some more subtle than others. “Hunger Games” also satires our late night talk show hosts with a gleefully fun performance by Stanley Tucci. It never seems to be out to answer these questions but instead likes to pose them, which is what starts conversations in classrooms and households alike.
Director Gary Ross is instrumental in creating the tone and the bleak picture. Many seem to complain about his overuse with “shaky cam”. 9 times out of 10 I would agree, shaky cam isn’t good filmmaking and primarily used to cover up mistakes (not always but a lot of times) and give the illusion of action. In the right hands it’s an effective tool like with “Captain Phillips” and “Bourne Ultimatum” director Paul Greengrass. In the hands of a wrong director the results can be disastrous, (anyone else remember “Alex Cross?”) Here though the shaky camera never bothered me and in fact I thought it added something to the picture. It made it feel more gritty and raw, bleak and real. The action is tense and at times disturbing and the camera work by Ross amplified that.
The only real glaring faults is its lackluster computer generated effects. Majority of its time Ross prefers to use practical effects over CGI, so it’s not a constant problem. However, some of the effects are noticeable fake like fire and the rapid attack dogs.
The first entry in the “Hunger Games” series leaves with a satisfying ending but keeping some ambiguity with only flashes of where a continuation could go. Instead of “Maze Runner’s” desperate ending we have a confident one that is ready to tackle the next chapter and one that I couldn’t believe that I was looking forward too.