battle royale, catching fire, donald sutherland, dystopia, elizabeth banks, jennifer lawrence, josh hutcherson, science fiction, shirley jackson, simon beaufoy, stanley tucci, stephen king, suzanne collins, the hunger games, tim burton, wes bentley, woody harrelson
Grade: B- (RENT IT)
THE MUCH-ANTICIPATED screen version of “The Hunger Games” comes with baggage. A lot of baggage, in fact: more than twenty million readers (and growing) and that perennially impossible pressure of bringing a beloved book to life on screen. Let’s face it: you can’t appear as if you love the book if you love the movie as well. But what’s to rave about here? “The Hunger Games” begins and ends not with a bang but with a whimper, and that’s the surprising deficiency in Gary Ross’s screen retool of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling dystopic triology with this cheery premise: a futuristic Orwellian autocracy in which minors are marched into a televised fights-to-the-death. Call it “Keeping up with the Kill-dash-ians.” Ninety million dollars later, not to mention a costume department that resembles the offspring of Tim Burton and Marie Antoinette, and we have Part 1 of “The Hunger Games,” but it’s a snooze and you’re lying if you weren’t left a little hungry for just a little more gaming and a lot less exposition.
In terms of Collins’ savage plot, there’s really nothing new here. Critics cite the Japanese film “Battle Royale,” but there are influences even more obvious: Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and Stephen King’s sci-fi novel, “The Running Man” (later a film starring Schwarzeneggar), in which the clairvoyant King, who saw, back in 1982, where reality-TV was headed, put game-show contestants in a death match. As Collins’ 16-year old heroine Katniss Everdeen, Jennifer Lawrence (Oscar-nominated for “Winter’s Bone”) has already been call bland and lifeless in the role. Not so. The leitmotif of The Hunger Games is containment – segregation, really, as in the district-ization of this future nightmare-socity – and Lawrence gives a restrained, rather contained performance, focused and somber. Some of the first images of Lawrence are powerful: like a Diana in pigtails, she stands inside in a verdant forest, hunting bow in hand. Of course, the huntress becomes the hunted as she joins twenty-three other so-called “tributes” to inhabit a vast televised landscape, replete with genetically engineered hornets and man-eating dogs the size of VW bugs, compliments of reality-show producer Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) and blue-skinned Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) as the games’ slimy talk-show host.
Regardless, the supporting cast contains some delightful stand-outs: the always-entertaining Elizabeth Banks who cites Joel Grey in “Cabaret” as the inspiration behind her Effie Trinket and Josh Hutcherson (“The Kids Are Alright”) as the passive Peeta Mellark. Two others are severely miscast: a wooden Lenny Kravitz as Cinna and a Woody (Harrelson) as Haymitch Abernathy. Apparently, the party every night during shooting was in Kravitz’s trailer but he brings little of that fun to the screen. And the fact that two of the audience members in my row were asleep two hours in – and it was a 12:15 screening! – speaks to the film’s snail’s-pace. Simon “Slumdog Millionare” Beaufoy has adapted the second book “Catching Fire” for the screen – production begins this September – and let’s hope he can give the plot the Bollywood bop it deserves.
A sinister Donald Sutherland, whose white beard is combed into a ghostly mask, plays President Snow and in the film’s final scene, we see him assessing the winners of the Games and perhaps determining what’s to come. “Contain it,” he tells Seneca earlier in the film. Still, what are we to make of that last look at the games’ sole survivors? It spells sequel, but how exactly? What’s left uncontained?
With the next three films in the works and fans ravenous for more – that’s right, Hollywood will split the third book into two films to play the game some more – it’s safe to say the Kat Fight will continue. Let’s hope it can overcome the low blood sugar that slows down this first installment.
Travel Spirit said:
The preview was good…loved the book!
Are you reading the whole trilogy? Lots to like about the books; what catches your fancy?
Travel Spirit said:
I’m not sure if I’ll read the others…kind of like traveling…too many other books (countries) to read (go to)!
My sentiments exactly, write on!
Write, Wrong, and InBetween Reviews said:
I was able to see the movie yesterday and thought, the movie was good, but the book(s) are even better. I did not find the movie to be terribly wonderful or dreadful. It just underwhelmed, though perhaps my expectations were set above the forehead. As far as your question, “what is left uncontained.” The freedom of Panem’s people is the answer. …Thanks for sharing your take, as enjoyed the read.
Oh that’s a superb interpretation; yes, I’m hoping for revolution there! Thanks for the visit!
You make some good points, especially about the pace (half felt quite rushed, half felt drawn-out – like in the book) and the ending fizzling out!
What did you make of the President’s look at the end? Agree on pace. Did you find Lawrence’s performance dull? I didn’t. Thanks for the visit.
I didn’t really think anything, to be honest! If I were the President I would be half intrigued by Katniss, but at the same time amused by her because I’d know I could crush her whenever I wanted to.
I thought Lawrence was perfectly fine as Katniss – she really played the character the way it was written in the book.
It’s currently spring break here for the middle schools and high schools so I’m waiting another week or so to see this.
I read the novels in a shockingly rapid succession and then told my wife to read them. We both loved the books but I keep hearing mixed things about the movie.
I would much rather have the 2nd book be split into 2 movies than the 3rd, but I’ll deal with it. Nice review!
You can take all the time you need; it will be around as it’s a super hit. But not a real hit amongst the critics. Thanks for the comment!
Hi! I loved Lawrence, I thought she was spot on and is what made the movie as good as it was. I was disappointed no blending of the tributes with the dogs but I understand that it’s all about the money. Agree about the wooden Woody.
I liked the book a tad more because I enjoyed how she felt while doing all these things and falling for someone else in the moment while really loving another. (Which wasn’t really shown well in the movie.) For people who haven’t read the book I thought it was great (and so did the friend who hadn’t read the book who saw it with me). Anyway great points. Cheers!
I thought Lawrence gave a great performance as well. I think she’s an actress with a lot of promise.
Arg I’ve resisted reading all reviews and comments on Hunger Games until after I see it. Some reviews give away too much. Seeing it Saturday and look forward to reading Colinls insightful review.
I swear I didn’t read yours or other reviews but we both did get the Running Man similarity and I added Logan’s Run as well in my review. I liked it even less giving it a C minus. With his blond hair I didn’t even recognize Josh Hutcherson in the just okay movie The Kids are Alright. I won’t be bothering with future installments.
Loved THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT; a very modern family! Hutcherson was pitch-perfect in that. Thanks for reading!
It might well be rent it, but I’m still hoping to make time to see it this weekend… just because I so enjoyed the books.
It’s probably worth seeing on screen as there’s not much out now of any real quality; plus, it’s kind of an event. I guess I’m rescinding on my original review! Thanks for reading.
“Keeping up with the Kill-dash-ians.” love it lol
I agree with you that this film needed more action, I was thinking the same thing. Katniss only really gets one kill which I thought was a bit lame. I was actually expecting a bit more from Lawrence in this role. Maybe I just wanted some of that magic she had in Winters Bone to shine through.
Nice review, colin
Thanks! I see Lawrence on the cover of my new ROLLING STONE; I guess she’s the next-big-thing. She held the film together, me thinks. Amazing in WINTERS BONE.
She looks pretty hot on that rolling stone cover with her almost see through shirt. lol
No comment, ha ha – The New York Times was critical of her performance, calling it “bland,” but I think that suited the role. Write on!
I hadn’t read the books beforehand, but my feeling was that they were trying to pull off two separate things. One was a political or social commentary and one was an action film. Some folks seemed to want more of the physical battle, while I personally felt like they went a bit too lite on the politics behind it, especially given the synopsis that I’ve read about the sequels where it is all about finally getting revenge on the capitol!