Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Hunger Games Review

Film appreciation is such a subjective thing, as no matter how talented a filmmaker is or how seemingly perfect a screenplay can be, we see what we see and thus, we like what we like. In regards to the two installments of the Hunger Games franchise, I have seen such wide ranging reactions to the films ranging from it being the greatest thing ever made to one of the worst, and what I try to do when I really break a movie down is separate myself from the hyperbole in either direction.

I decided now was a good time to revisit these two films, with the release of the third (but not final, because every damn franchise needs to a two part conclusion) movie coming this weekend. The complaint I have heard most often regarding the first film has come from those who have not read the books in advance, and it is that the screenplay doesn't do a good enough job to teach the viewers about the basics of the story, like why are some districts thriving while others are rationing food? What exactly is the arena they fight in? What technology is at the disposal of these games makers exactly, as they are clearly able to start fires and create giant dog creatures out of, essentially, thin air?

As I was familiar with the source material prior to seeing the first film when it was released in 2012, it was easy for me to put together the pieces and follow the story so I didn't really absorb the possibility that it would be difficult for others, but the truth is, those complaints are absolutely valid. The screenplay does seem to take for granted the notion that not everyone sitting in the audience will have read the books, and that is a shame because the film really should be able to completely stand on its own without any confusion from the audience.

The sequences involving the love triangle were among my least favorite in The Hunger Games. I still can't comprehend why we are cutting away from the arena to see her male friend/potential lover Gale back at home pouting about their relationship status. The fact that she could be dead at any minute seems to take a back seat with him apparently, and I found having to see his face get all sad over her television romance with Peeta was a lame addition to the film, something that easily could be saved for the start of the second installment.

That being said, The Hunger Games is still a very good film because everything it does right far outweighs the negatives. The casting is inspired across the board, with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen obviously stealing the show in the lead role. That scene just before Katniss goes up into the arena, as Cinna tries to comfort her? That, for me, is the finest sequence in the entire film, and very little of it has to do with words spoken. The way her body trembles in fear, the look in her eyes as she is about to rise into what will almost certainly be her is a sublime performance.

I love the way sound is utilized during certain portions of the film, like the very start of the games. The chaos taking place is allowed to overwhelm us visually without any noise, making the violence that much more jarring. Also, I appreciate the way this film clearly sets up a sequel but also manages to work independently, merely leading down a path rather than making it a focal point. A character death inside the arena sparks the beginning of a revolution back in her district, and the emotional weight of this scene is effectively heavy and beautifully handled. Rather than diverting away from the central core of the film this is just a quick glimpse into something that will be expanded on later on.

The Hunger Games is a good but not great book that was adapted into a good but not great movie, an effective and entertaining way to kick off a franchise.


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