The Hunger Games’ first novel was a visceral tale of Truman Story meets Lord of the Flies, which captured the confusion and primal instinct of a young girl, named Katniss Everdeen, who was forced to kill. While the book focused on an actual pseudo-reality TV series called The Hunger Games, author Suzanne Collins also showed off Katniss’ literal hunger. A loaf of bread meant the difference between life and death; it also catalyzed Katniss’ desire to hunt and save her family from starvation after her father died.
The film version of The Hunger Games cleans up the clutter of teenage uncertainty, while sanitizing the gruesome side of children killing children. Instead of a smart and emotionally conflicted Katniss, viewers get a quiet and semi-brooding teenage girl. It’s a problem that stemmed from translating a first-person narrative novel into a film. All of Katniss’ internal dialogue has been thrown away, leaving the viewer with a few inconsequential expressions from Jennifer Lawrence. This is a film that was supposed to be about high stakes, but without her internal dialogue there’s no payoff or interest in the character. There are a few humorous moments from commentator Caesar Flickerman (played by Stanley Tucci), which explain plot points, but they don’t give you any insight into Katniss.
The film begins with several dizzying, Kung-Fu swish pans. During Katniss’ initial hunt, the camera snaps back and forth between Katniss, a deer and her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). The jarring motion serves no purpose save to give the viewer a swift bout of motion sickness. Surprisingly, this style isn’t used throughout the movie, but only in the exposition. It’s as if the creative team realized that this was not the best direction to go in, but didn’t have the funding to change it after it was already shot.
The film does a good job of setting up the story and offering information on what led to the present state of affairs. After a long war, which a governing body called the Capitol won, a boy and a girl from each of the twelve rebelling districts is entered into a tournament where there can only be one survivor. When Katniss’ younger sister is chosen by lotto to represent her district, Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place.
The initial trip to the Capitol captures the splendor that Katniss imagined in the book. Everyone in the Capitol looks like an over-done runway model, exploding with colors and outlandish fashions. The costumes and art design for the Capitol are great, save for Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss’ trainer. He seems like the cleaner, younger brother of the character we met in the book. The movie steadily goes wrong from here. Viewers never get a clear understanding of what Katniss is thinking or her relationship with Peeta. A few flashbacks do little to elucidate an important point that should have played throughout the entire film. However, all the gory details have been washed away.
The fighting begins, but the savagery of the situation never enters the story. What you do get are a few comical moments from Tucci. As for the games, all the scrapes and bruises look minor and picturesque. It looks like a series of camping accidents rather than killings. Remember The Dark Knight? It was a gritty film that kept its PG-13 rating so there’s no reason why the creative team for The Hunger Games couldn’t have found a way to capture the tumultuous event. The question of the reality of the romance between Peeta and Katniss never comes into play. There is also one major plot note regarding Peeta that is dropped completely from the ending.
If you read the novel, you will be able to fill in the gaps left out from the script. Otherwise, The Hunger Games is a trite film ,which will leave you with little emotional connection to the lead character, a compelling young girl from District 12.