Since the end of the Harry Potter film series, Hollywood has been searching for their next big franchise, and hopefully a respectable one, unlike Twilight. Lionsgate was quick on their feet, as they picked up the rights to The Hunger Games back in 2009, hired Gary Ross as director in 2010, and went straight to filming just last year. Although fans were pleased, everyone else didn’t know what to think. With a plot revolving around kids killing each other in a dystopian setting, yet having strong appeal to the young adult audience, no one could really tell how successful this could be at first. Though during its filming time, buzz massively increased, as many were introduced to the book, as the first footage premiered during last year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Now here we are in 2012, and the fan base has reached Twilight level. Fan girls, and now even fan boys, have been lining up at cast appearances in malls and shattering ticket sale records, confirming that this franchise is the next big step for Hollywood…but is it any good? Well, even though I am someone who has not read the books, I’m glad to say that The Hunger Games is more than just a fan-pleasing adaptation, but overall a touching piece of film making.
Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen, an independent sixteen-year-old girl who makes the ultimate sacrifice for her family as she volunteers to be a part of The Hunger Games, where one young boy and girl from each district of the nation of Panem must fight to the death to win fame and glory. Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson, joins Katniss as one of the tributes of District 12, and they travel to the Capital a.k.a. the rich, high society area of Panem, where they meet their mentor, Haymitch, played by Woody Harrelson, and stylist Cinna, played by Lenny Kravitz. After the preparation is all done, Katniss and Peeta are off to begin the Games, and it is about as PG-13 gruesome as it sounds like. This movie could have easily been a dumb action film that glorified its violence or an awful Twilight romance film, emphasizing the idea of Katniss and Peeta being “star-crossed lovers,” but instead, it is an emotionally powerful story, with much credit being given to Jennifer Lawrence. Director Gary Ross has said that Lawrence deserves an Oscar nomination for her performance, and I can see what he means. I don’t know about her chances come awards season, but Jennifer Lawrence is an extremely believable Katniss. You are instantly with her from the beginning, as she is constantly there to protect her sister and mother, and until the very end, with the strong relationships she has built with the kids of the other districts. Josh Hutcherson does a good job with Peeta, as does the rest of the supporting cast. We don’t get to see a lot of Gale, Katniss’ “friend” back home, played by Liam Hemsworth, but I look forward to what they do with him in the next film. Though there was one character/actor that really bugged me, and that was Alexander Ludwig as Cato, a contestant in the Games. We easily begin to hate him the first time we see him, and I think he tries way too hard to play the bully stereotype, so it does not let us learn to despise him…and that is a bit cheap.
Director Gary Ross really made a lot of the right decisions for this movie. Yes, there is a lot of shaky cam, but I really think Ross knew how to set the moods for this movie. We feel for the poor state of District 12, and pity the glamorous lifestyles of the rich in the Capitol, as Ross is able to translate the novel’s social commentary instantly. He is capable of blending it in with the many emotional moments throughout the movie, without burying it or overpowering it. I think the shaky cam does add a lot to the grittiness of the Games, as the most intense scenes really had me going. Many film adaptations of young adult novels try to capture that sort of emotion when their characters are in peril, but even the Harry Potter movies are not always good at doing this. Though in this film, once the Games begin, you immediately feel the tension, given the character development going into it. Speaking of character development, yes, there could have been a lot more, but at a two-and-a-half hour running time, the pacing is already great, so it would have been hard to expand. And with that running time, you would also think the movie would end on a high note, and as much as I was loving this movie, the ending did not satisfy me. That was probably the filmmakers’ intentions, to make us demand a sequel, but that is a bit too manipulative, as a movie is a movie, and when it gets to its end, it needs to wrap it up no matter what.
So now, of course, I am eagerly waiting for the next film. The Hunger Games is the intelligent blockbuster most of us have been wanting since Inception, and while it is not nearly as clever as that movie, you should be happy with it anyways. Fans may nitpick this movie, while others may feel that this was way over-hyped, but I went in thinking that this would be nothing more than a fun but rather ordinary movie adaptation, and came out finding many things to love about it. We’ve got the strong female protagonist, the dark but wondrous setting, and the thrilling direction. Hollywood needed something different, and they got it. Now if they can write their OWN stories and not depend on what the kids read these days…