Seeing as Hunger Games came out in March, I realize I’m more than a little behind the ball on this one. But I’ve set myself the task of writing a review for each movie I put on my top 11 list, and as the first to be released, it’s high time to compose my summary of the much-anticipated Hunger Games.
I should first express my opinion on the Hunger Games series, a trilogy which sparked a craze to rival that of Twilight (although the fact that it remains rather well-liked indicates that it never got big enough to experience Twilight-proportioned backlash). It bears many of the hallmarks of a stereotypical teen novel, which keeps the pages turning, but it combines cheesy romance and over-done themes with genuine sense of tension and a serious, even brutal concept. The book straddles a line somewhere between entertaining teen adventure and 1984-style drama,making it attractive both to those seeking out a semi-intelligent read and those merely in search of a good story.
My first complaint regarding The Hunger Games is the casting. Yes, there was a lot of talk amongst the young and female demographic surrounding who should’ve been chosen to play Katniss’ love interests Peeta and Gale (although I would like to point out that there’s never really a question of who she’ll end up with, I have no idea why people treat it like some major love triangle). But I was fine with the casting of the younger Hemsworth for the generic, sullen Gale and the adorable Hutcherson as charismatic, good-hearted Peeta. My concern was with the most important casting choice; Katniss herself. Critics tend to gush about Jennifer Lawrence and her ‘vulnerability’ and ‘strength’ (which seems a somewhat silly contradiction but I digress), yet I just can’t understand where the praise comes from. I’ve become more and more convinced I must just be crazy, because whenever I see her on screen it becomes immediately and uncomfortably obvious that I’m watching an actress attempting to play a role, that none of it is real. The constant blank stares, the monotone voice, the either complete lack of or carefully calculated emotion she displays. Admittedly I haven’t seen her breakout film, Winter’s Bone, but I had the same exact impression when watching her in both X-Men: First Class and Like Crazy. Others have deemed her acting nuanced but to me, it just appears clumsy, awkward and obvious. She reminds me of a bad magician, able to perform the tricks but constantly drawing attention to the method, instead of distracting the audience so they can appreciate the result.
On the other hand, I found some of the casting to be very impressive. Of course characters other than Peeta and Katniss have precious little to do, but there were nonetheless a few impressive standouts. Elizabeth Banks is great as the outlandish and perpetually cheery Effie Trinket. There are two ways to view Effie Trinket; as either entirely clueless, inexorably wrapped in the extravagant and dehumanized world of The Capitol, or as a woman whose overtly bubbly nature is a means of deflecting her guilt and anxieties regarding her occupation. The latter makes for a much more interesting character, and Banks’ Effie displays signs of doubt and sympathy, hinting at a depth that could easily be drowned out by a lesser actress in such an already outrageous and eccentric role.
Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane was another standout, although that rather distinctive beard might have been doing a lot of the work. And I was especially surprised by Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. The acting was adequate, and while he did little to evoke the Cinna presented in the book, what struck me was the clearly unintentional chemistry between him and Katniss. Watching Hutcherson and Lawrence’s anti-climactic kiss was comparable to watching tumbleweeds roll by on a dirt road, but when Cinna brushed Katniss’ cheek I swear I could see sparks. Again, maybe I’m just totally crazy, but by the end I was convinced she should ditch Gale and Peeta and run off with Lenny Kravitz.
I was also a huge fan of the addition of some ‘behind the scenes’ sequences, in which we get to see Seneca and his employees manipulating the Games from the outside, setting up the contestants like dominoes. When Katniss is caught in a manufactured forest-fire in the book, it comes off as merely another obstacle engineered by the Game Masters. But in the movie, the fire is very deliberately planned to herd the contestants back together, creating more action and thereby more entertainment.
To my more hard-core Hunger Games fan friends, there has been no end to the list of gripes regarding this movie, from the handling of Katniss and Haymitch’s relationship to certain dress and hair colors. But I tend to overlook details like that; if I wanted the book, I’d read the book again. In my personal opinion, movies are separate entities from their literary counterparts and should be judged as such. That said, I went into this movie with considerably low expectations and walked out pleasantly surprised. It might take itself a little too seriously (I’ll get major flack for saying it but Hunger Games is, at its heart, more parts fun teen-novel then political commentary) and certain climactic scenes fall flat, but as a stand-alone work I’d say Hunger Games is, while not exceptional, worth the watch.
On the Way:
Reviews for Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman! I would like to take a moment to point out that 4/5 of these movies contain a Hemsworth.
No complaints here.