The Cynical Optimist vs. The Hunger Games


Moviehole’s Tribute Enters the Arena…

Directed by Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”), “The Hunger Games” is a tedious, predictable film based on the young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay with Ross and screenwriter Billy Ray.

“The Hunger Games” takes place after the destruction of the United States by an unknown apocalyptic event, in a nation known as Panem. Panem consists of a wealthy, futuristic Capitol and twelve surrounding, poorer districts. District 12, where the story begins, is located in the coal-rich region that was formerly Appalachia. [Here’s a fun fact, I’m actually from the region where District 12 is located… and even after the apocalypse it looks relatively the same]

Every year one boy and one girl from each district between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected randomly to participate in the Hunger Games, an event in which the participants (or “tributes”) must fight in an outdoor arena controlled by the Capitol, until only one remains.

The film follows District 12‘s 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers for the 74th annual Hunger Games in place of her younger sister, Primrose (Willow Shields).

Also selected from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who plays the stereotypical insecure, more emotional male character in an inevitable romantic triangle between Katniss and chiseled he-man Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

“The Hunger Games” is a restrained, futuristic vision of a desperate, broken world where children kill each other for entertainment – and yet I left the theater completely unaffected. Director Gary Ross has perhaps made a movie that is too restrained, as it failed to evoke any emotion or excitement during it’s 142 minutes.

It’s tedious, boring and entirely predictable. Films like “Death Race 2000,” and “The Running Man” set the stage for post-apocalyptic gladiator games, but “The Hunger Games” borrows most from Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 film, “Battle Royale,” where (after an economic collapse) the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary Battle Royale Act.

In both films, teenagers are given survival gear and weapons and sent to a lethal, controlled battlefield where they must kill each other off. Every morning music is played (in both films) and the fallen competitors are listed. In both films the competitors monitored and tracked to prevent them from leaving the futuristic arena.

The difference is, “Battle Royale” is a fantastic, exciting film that isn’t afraid to embrace its subject matter and explore the depths of such a reality. “The Hunger Games” is a young adult novel turned into a pre-teen movie, a PG-13 flick where children are killed and the impact isn’t felt because the filmmaking is so sterile and the story is so incredibly generic.

At the press screening I attended, the host of the event asked the audience “OK, so are ya’ll Team Peeta or Team Gale?” and it was at that moment I realized what I had stumbled into – that it didn’t matter how good “The Hunger Games” was. It was created in the mold of a successful string of young adult fiction that was simply too big to fail.

From the box office successes of “Harry Potter” and “Twilight,” “The Hunger Games” was pre-destined to make hundreds of millions of dollars, regardless of the quality of the film itself.

The influence of young adult fiction film adaptations were probably a direct result of Collins’ decision to take her successful novel and create a trilogy. I have no doubt that the final book will be split up into “The Hunger Games Saga: Mockingjay Part I” and “The Hunger Games Saga: Mockingjay Part II” to further take advantage of this successful business model.

While the acting was completely acceptable, Jennifer Lawrence and Stanely Tucci are great, the characters are one-dimensional and just as predictable as the story they’re trapped in. Katniss is a perfectly fine character, but she’s a far cry from Lt. Ellen Ripley, who I still consider to be the bar that all female heroins aspire to.

Final Thoughts:

This is one of those unfortunate cases where the soundtrack “inspired by” the film is infinitely better than the film itself. If you’ve read the books, then you’ve just wasted your time reading my opinion – because you’ll no doubt be there on opening night in your Team Peeta shirt squealing with delight. If you’re interested in watching a definitive film instead of a pre-teen tiger beat flick, save your money and pick up “Battle Royale” on Blu-ray.