The Hunger Games is a movie that almost worked for me. It seems to be missing an act, perhaps an entire movie, and unfortunately it’s the first one. The film glosses over so much at the beginning that it feels as if it’s trying to play catch up and stay on pace with a non-existent requirement. I actually wanted to like this film because the plot is a good one. Twenty-four children forced into a fight to the death as penance for a political uprising 74 years prior. Each year this event is televised and it is called the Hunger Games. This is a good idea for a movie and would have been immensely enjoyable in more competent hands. Ultimately, this film falls flat due to an almost ADD like need to keep going, never slowing down to let us get to know any of the characters.
I have not read the source material for this film, so I am unable to determine where my misgivings lie. Is this the result of a filmmaker trying to force too much into a running time or is this the work of an author who didn’t flesh out the story to begin with? Katniss Everdeen (played by the remarkable Jennifer Lawrence), who has volunteered to be the participant for this years Hunger Games when the name of her sister is chosen, embarks on a journey that takes her from the poor and backwater district that she is from to the gleaming metropolis where the games are held. Constant mention is made to how wonderful it must be for her to be exposed to the lavish lifestyle that accompanies this trip, however, we are never really given a glimpse of what life is like at home. It seems that it is enough to show us that the people are a little dirty and maybe uneducated to let us know that this is a very different world for Katniss.
We are rushed through the process of getting Katniss and her partner from District 12, Peeta, ready for the games, with Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, and Elizabeth Banks coaching them on what to say and do. Woody Harrelson steals the show and is a joy to watch throughout his few scenes. Again, there is a problem with pacing. Instead of letting us see the transformations and spending time with any of the characters we are given glorified montages. Each scene is designed to reveal a trait or skill that will come into play later. It’s as if we’re watching live action dossiers. Rush, rush, rush. We must get to the games!
The games begin with the audience knowing the names of two of the twenty-four participants. About five seconds of screen time is wasted on anything but the two main leads and consequently there is no weight to anyone’s death. We are supposed to feel empathy for one participant later on, however, it is very difficult to establish any kind of connection in 30 seconds. Loyalties change and allegiances are established and then reversed in quick order without the audience ever really given any idea who the characters are. All but a few of those characters are interchangeable, carrying no emotional weight whatsoever. This is a sloppy script, relying on spoken lines to give character detail.
The Hunger Games is the first part of a four part series. It made a boatload of money and the sequels will all be event releases. There is a rabid fan base for the material who have devoured anything related to the film. I don’t really understand why. It’s not that the idea is bad, it’s that it’s poorly executed. There could have been a whole film leading up to the start of the Games instead of the 10 minutes we are given. I would have thoroughly enjoyed a film that ended with Katniss screaming that she offers herself as tribute. I believe we would have had a much greater appreciation for the world in general, and her character in particular, which would have increased the stakes exponentially. That, I believe, is the central problem of the film. There are no stakes to anything. We all know who is going to win because this mainstream of a film wouldn’t be bold enough to end in a controversial manner and we aren’t given enough character development to truly care about anyone involved. We are left in limbo with a plot hook and nothing else. Perhaps the rest of the movies will allow some sense of character familiarity and ease the pain of this first film. Ultimately, I have a feeling that I will watch the entire series wondering what could have been.