The Hunger Games Movie Review
The Hunger Games. The debut for a movie - ever - in the month of March. A movie that is based on a young adult book that is thankfully much, much better than Twilight. A movie that has received glowing reviews. A movie that, unfortunately, fails to live up to its full potential.
Appreciating a theatrical adaptation of a novel is challenging, especially when you read the book for the first time just a week earlier. Every detail, every character thought, is still fresh in memory. Every time a moment is cut or a detail downplayed, it's impossible not to notice. Noticing, let alone complaining about, nuanced differences is not fair to the adaptation, because movies need to be more streamlined and focused than their wordy counterparts.
And yet The Hunger Games lacks detail. Specifically, the important details that made the book so interesting.
The Hunger Games is entertaining and easy to watch, with a coherent story and characters that put what is shown in the Twilight movies to shame (granted, they put themselves to shame). Despite being nearly two and a half hours long, it moves at a fast clip, rarely dwelling on any one scene for too long. It stays close to the book in terms of plot, deviating only slightly when efficiency is called for. It is, more or less, a faithful adaptation of the book.
At least on the surface.
Director Gary Ross and his co-writer Suzanne Collins (who also wrote the novel) strip the movie of so much detail that The Hunger Games loses many of its complexities. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is a girl stuck in an undesirable situation, not a girl who realizes that she must pretend to be in love with one of her competitors to have any chance at surviving. In the book, she's an unwilling warrior who, realizing that the ruthless gang of tributes that is hunting her has gained a huge advantage by collecting a large pile of food and gear, decides to go on the offensive and destroy it all. In the movie, she's merely a girl who decides to go and destroy the pile. In the book, there is emotion, excitement and suspense. In the movie, there are scenes assembled together in an attempt to obtain the same effect.
Ross, whose last film was 2003's Seabiscuit, was an odd choice to direct a franchise starter such as this. He was also a safe choice. The Hunger Games is not an edgy movie; it is a by-the-numbers adaptation that hits upon all the right moments, but doesn't drum up much excitement, either.
It could have, and should have, been better.
Ross and Collins gloss over some of the finer points that define the character that is Katniss. She's not a simple girl; in the book, as time progresses, she begins to think more strategically, more oriented toward surviving and winning. In the book, she reluctantly acknowledges that the audience wants a show, and that she must feign a relationship with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). These elements are what define Katniss, and yet Ross and Collins don't include these elements in the movie. They allude to them, but only barely.
The direction is serviceable but uninspiring. Ross fails to evoke much emotion throughout the movie, even in the scenes that should have been momentous. When the game begins, the movie should have drummed with the same intensity that is seen in Gladiator, just before Russell Crowe steps into the arena. When a key character dies, Ross should have reminded us that we should care. And when something action-packed is happening, he should have drawn out the action and amped up the excitement.
The terrible score doesn't help. The music, or lack thereof, does little to inspire emotion, whether it be dread, excitement, fear or happiness. The Hunger Games needed a heavy score, and instead it was given something that sounded like it was downloaded from YouTube.
Despite all its faults, The Hunger Games has its moments. It is by no means a bad movie; it's just an underwhelming one, an epic start to a franchise that doesn't feel very epic. The Hunger Games is worth seeing, but it needed a director who was willing to be bolder, to take a few risks. Taking risks is a scary proposition for a studio looking to make their first true blockbuster, but they would have paid dividends.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.