May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor
by Issa Perez de Tagle
The Hunger Games (2012)
D: Gary Ross
S: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
In a year not too far into the future, America has been engulfed in the fire of human destruction, and out of its ashes, the dystopian society of Panem has arisen. Here, the elite live in the Capitol in blissful detachment at the expense of the commoners who break their backs to provide for them in separate districts. As a constant reminder of the power and dominion of the Capitol, a male and female child are annually selected from each district and pitted against one another in a televised battle to the death until only one survives.
The subject matter seems a bit graphic for something geared towards young adults, but author Suzanne Collins has tapped into something that everyone can relate to. In her work, she satirizes our generation’s fascination with so-called reality television and our blind contentment with a status quo that benefits a few while the rest suffer. In every page of her book she seems to ask us when we all became so jaded to the plights of the world. The question now is whether or not this film, as an adaptation of that novel, carries across the same message.
I would say, to some extent, it does. All the basic plot points of the story are represented on screen, which should please any fan. The set and costume designs were a creative mix of inspiration ranging from the Industrial Era to a Lady Gaga music video. Gary Ross also used some ingenious methods of telling certain back stories he couldn’t give much screen time to. I particularly appreciated how he hinted at what happened to Katniss’s father by timing it when Katniss was in a delusional state. However, from here on out, it’s pretty much hit and miss.
Take the casting for instance. A lot of them were spot on: Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, and Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen. A select few were pleasant surprises, including Lenny Kravitz as Cinna and Jennifer Lawrence herself as Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence in particular far surpassed any of my expectations and eradicated any of my previous doubts of her capability to portray Katniss faithfully. She was strong yet vulnerable, quiet yet calculating, and fierce yet compassionate. It really is amazing to watch how she handles herself onscreen. She is certainly cementing herself as a Hollywood A-lister. However, her leading men leave quite a lot to be desired.
It seems like whatever it was they did in their auditions to impress their filmmakers will forever be a mystery, because not an inkling of it was shown in the movie. Josh Hutcherson is mildly charming but altogether seems too young for Lawrence’s Katniss. Their chemistry is almost nonexistent, and any interaction they have onscreen comes off as incestuous since they seem more like brother and sister. Liam Hemsworth as Gale fares no better. I would say he does even poorer. He fails to embody Gale’s inner fire, his eyes blank and his demeanor almost cowardly. Whenever the camera comes in for a close-up of him, he just ends up looking vacantly stupid.
At least that’s when the camera manages to find its focus because there was a terrible amount of “shaky camera” effect going on in this movie. I’m sure the purpose was to mimic how some reality shows are shot today and give the film a kind of indie feel to it but it came off as forced and sometimes confusing. All in all, it just took away from the gravity of certain vital events in the story.
It didn’t help that there was a marked lack in violence shown onscreen. But this is somewhat forgivable since this would deny most of the target audience the chance to actually watch the film. (All the same, I do secretly hope they release a less watered down version of the action sequences in a DVD cut.) After all, this is supposed to be a story that goes beyond the carnage.
You can see this in perhaps the most poignant scene of the movie wherein Katniss salutes the district of a fallen comrade, causing them to band together against the Capitol. It’s just a shame that scenes like that were so few and far between. By focusing too much on bombarding our senses with rich visuals and heart-pounding action, the filmmakers underdeveloped their key characters and seemed to have forgotten that the strength of its source material was in the fact that it was so rich in social commentary and exposition on human nature under adversity.
If only there was a little more self-awareness on the part of the tributes or a more adequate display of the desperation of the district people, there would be more depth and direness to their situation and maybe even fill in the gaps in the actual narrative.
So, while The Hunger Games is infinitely smarter than any teen-novel-turned-movie, it fails to be something more than just another entertaining summer blockbuster. It’s a good film. Sadly, it could’ve been a great film. I just hope that since Lionsgate is obviously completing the franchise, the succeeding films don’t get lost in the fight and miss their purpose for taking arms.