Let’s get this out of the way. I have not read any of the books in this young adult trilogy. As recently as two weeks ago, I had absolutely no interest in seeing this film. I assumed The Hunger Games was the most recent Twilight obsession, but then people I respect began to see it and they really enjoyed it. I decided to actually watch the trailer and I became pretty intrigued. I always assumed it was just a Battle Royale rip off, but I realized this had the potential to be something else. So how was it? Honestly, The Hunger Games is amazing, and there’s a lot of different things I want to discuss.
The Hunger Games tells an incredibly personal and intimate story in an epic way. This is a huge compliment, and something all blockbusters should strive to do. Blockbuster films consistently ignore characters and emotion so they can move on to the next “exciting” set piece, but here’s the thing- the majority of the time these set pieces elicit nothing but a superficial reaction. They’re cool, but they don’t effect us in any emotional way because we don’t really care what happens. In The Hunger Games, we care what happens. We see this huge, terrifying world through Katniss’s eyes and we immediately care about her because she essentially sacrifices herself for her sister. As she makes new friends and meets new people we get to know them the way she does. Jennifer Lawrence is absolutely incredible in this film. She doesn’t say a word the moment before she’s entering the actual Hunger Games, but we feel her fear and anxiety as she goes up that elevator. When the set pieces begin they are incredibly visceral and emotionally suffocating. It feels like anyone could die at any moment…which leads me to the biggest question I had walking out of The Hunger Games.
How in the world is this based on a Young Adult book? The ideas and themes in this book are very adult and difficult. Kids are killed on stage and the world cheers. More importantly, the film is very political. Somehow Fox News and the right has embraced it, but I personally find the politics very progressive. The film takes place in a world where a small number of elite members of society maintain their extravagant lifestyles by oppressing the rest of us. A world where the rich dangle a carrot in front of us and say, “There’s hope!” A world where the powerful manipulate the Hunger Games in ways that are beneficial to them. A world where who you know is more important than what you’re capable of. A world very much like our own. The elite in this film are scared these people who have been taken advantage of their entire live will look around and say, “Enough!” And let me tell you something- right now, the elite are scared to death this will happen. Why else would they use Fox News to smear anything that even hints at equality?
The film definitely has problems. Sometimes the Young Adult nature of the books stumbles through the cracks. There are a few moments that just feel really off, especially when you compare it to the rest of the film. The end of the film is kind of anti-climatic. Handheld in the beginning of the film is absolutely terrible, and I love handheld. But really… it is all over the place and obviously just trying to make the film feel gritty. The actions scenes aren’t shot very well. It’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on during the final fight, but these scenes are still incredibly effective because of all the character work done in the film. I will argue until the end of time an okay set piece with emotional investment is better than superbly put together set pieces devoid of meaning. This is why The Hunger Games is the best blockbuster I’ve seen since The Bourne Supremacy in 2004. There have definitely been better big budget films. Where the Wild Things Are and Children of Men both had $80 million budgets, but they were not blockbusters. To me, it’s really exciting the film made $155 million because it’s an incredibly well made film that actually has something to say about the world we live in with a strong female lead! I hope Lionsgate doesn’t get greedy because they could easily rush the rest of this trilogy into production and ruin it. They have the opportunity to create a brilliant trilogy. It’s time to stop calling this film the next Twilight because The Hunger Games is visceral, emotionally powerful, and intelligent. It will be one of the best films of the year.