Inst@Review: The Hunger Games

[A Saturday morning, spoiler-free review.]

As dystopian science-fiction “Young Adult” (YA) teen-romance movies go, The Hunger Games ranks up there with all the other such movies I’ve seen. Unfortunately, that’s not going to be a very helpful observation, as I think this is the only film I’ve seen in that narrow-niche genre.

However, for some reason I can’t recall, the four members of my immediate family decided to read the Hunger Games Triology last year — at the beach — so let me warn you: this review is by someone far outside the target demographic, but who found about 1 3/4 of the triology entertaining — in a beach book sort of way — and the other 1 1/4 of the three books completely, hmmm, let me think of a teen-romance, YA way to put this, “lame.”

Here’s one such lame thing: In the Hunger Games future there is, at least for those in the “first-world” Capital District, the coolest technology you can imagine. However, the only medium that exists in this tech-laden world is broadcast TV. (That’s what I mean when I say dystopia.)

But, hey, it’s a book and movie. I’ll forgive the creator all such lameness for the two things she created that have helped raise the book above its otherwise
lame-itude: 1. Author Suzanne Collins’ decision to make the books, in big part, a satire of reality TV and 2. Author Suzanne Collins’ creation of a perfect literary character: Katniss Everdeen. And I mean perfect.

The reality TV satire provides a device for the movie to help fill in the gaps a viewer may need to understand what’s happening: A play-by-play announcer and color-guy who appear from time-to-time to let us know what’s going on, and why it may be important.

The character Katniss Everdeen, and her portrayal by actress Jennifer Lawrence, is, well, about as good as it gets. Like great male characters are allowed to do in books and film, Katniss does not have to adhere to any cliches, she is allowed to be conflicted and confused, yet to find a calling in her uncertainty. She’s both wise and innocent; tender and kick-ass. And for those who saw her in Winter’s Bones, Jennifer Lawrence is uniquely qualified to bring the character to life. Or at least to life, on film. Indeed, even moreso than Winter’s Bones, this film allows us to experience Lawrence’s full potential.

Typically, I would say about a movie that is based on a book I’ve read that I don’t want to compare the two, that they should each stand on their own. However, here is an instance where I can easily say, this movie far surpasses the book. Indeed, in some ways — like the latter books of Michael Crichton, for instance — the books seem like they were fictionalized versions of a film, so it isn’t surprising the first movie translates so well. (One exception: The screen writers underwrote the character Lenny Kravitz plays.)

Bottomline: The film is far from perfect. It drags where the books drag. And is lame where the books are lame. But the chance to see Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Eberdeen is worth four st@Rs.

@R @R @R @R

Later: Among the interesting stats regarding its blockbuster opening weekend: a 40% male audience.

  • Bhudgins

    Sounds like The Descendants – great performances in an otherwise so-so movie.

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  • The first book was really disappointing. The supposed social commentary doesn’t really get much further than “look, it’s like reality TV!” Maybe dystopian fiction can work without  social critique, but it’s not for me.

    I was hoping the movie would transcend this problem by inviting the viewer to be the District 1 audience and root for the violence, only to turn the mirror on them in the end. The use of a play-by-play announcer is a good step toward that, but I doubt it is in the studio’s best interest to insult their rabid fan base.

    I’m still probably going to see it, hoping it’s a Fight Club scenario, where the screen version adds spectacle to an otherwise bare-bones book.

  • I think it’s got more explosion than the Descendants.

  • Hey Sam. I don’t think the depth of social critique ranks with the Fight Club, but I do think that film is better than a book to tell the Hunger Games story. Of couse, I think the gang fight scene in Anchor Man far surpassed anything in Fight Club.

  • Not much holds up to:
    “Brick, where did you get a hand grenade?”
    “I don’t know.”