by Matt Bogdan, 1L
Rating: 8 out of 9. Thomas dissenting.
I like to think that my insatiable bloodlust, and hence my appreciation for “The Hunger Games,” is a product of my time in law school and not any underlying character flaw. The many fans of the best-selling trilogy will not be left disappointed by the film adaptation of the first book in the series. The film stays true to the novel, almost to a fault (it took me roughly fivehours to read the first book; the film itself is 142 minutes). Jennifer Lawrence delivers a remarkable performance as Katniss Everdeen, a young woman faced with the prospect of her imminent death as she battles for her life in the seventy-fourth Hunger Games.
Set in a not too distant, dystopian future, “The Hunger Games” follows the story of Lawrence’s Katniss, who must fight for her life after she volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the Hunger Games, an annual gladiatorial event pitting one boy and one girl from each of the 12 subservient districts against one another for the benefit and enjoyment of the nefarious Capitol District. The event takes place in the Arena, a Truman Show-esque dome. The Games are broadcast throughout each of the 12 Districts and the Capitol, with the Capitol crowd particularly enjoying each moment of the carnage. Only one of the twenty-four participants leaves the Arena each year.
Even though the film is marginally geared for the tween crowd, it is incredibly dark, violent, and at times emotionally disturbing, especially the scenes in the Arena. Director Gary Ross does not steer away from child-on-child murder, and in fact seems to embrace it as enhancing his antiauthoritarian message. Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss is spot-on, capturing the character’s cold, external reserve, while highlighting her flashes of anger, sorrow, and even love.
Lawrence leads a group of actors who pull off surprisingly strong performances. Full disclosure: I have been a huge fan of Woody Harrelson since “White Men Can’t Jump” (also the title of my life story). Harrelson was regarded by many as an odd choice for the role of Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss’s mentor in the series, but he delivers a remarkably poignant performance for such limited screen time. Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci are also solid, with Tucci particularly effective as the Hunger Games’ host, Caesar Flickerman.
The one fault I find with the film comes during the scenes in the Arena, where it can be particularly difficult to follow the action. The “shaky cam” method of creating realism is a bit overplayed and I almost felt dizzy at points (although, to be fair, it could have just been the nausea from seeing a young girl brutally maimed by genetically enhanced wasps). I would not go into the film expecting tremendous character development either (the movie is the heir-apparent to the “Twilight” series). And those who have not read the book may feel slightly lost at times, although those I have spoken to said that not having read the books did not impair the storyline in any serious way.
Ultimately, fans of the books will leave the theater satisfied, no small task considering how wildly popular the series has been. Jennifer Lawrence brings Katniss Everdeen to life, and director Gary Ross puts the pieces in place to bring Susan Collins’ dystopian world to life.
Editor, concurring in judgment
While I agree with Justice Bogdan’s excellent assessment of the quality of the movie, I write separately to say a few words about his characterization of the book as the “heir-apparent to the ‘Twilight’ series,” and the notion that an insatiable bloodlust is necessary to enjoy the movie. “Twilight” is a chastity metaphor. “The Hunger Games” is a social critique, touching on everything from celebrity obsession and reality television to environmentalism and the corrupting influence of power. Both involve teenage heroines caught in a love triangle. The similarities end there.
As to bloodlust, it is undoubtedly true that the movie is primarily about teenagers murdering each other (and perhaps for some that is the appeal), but the deaths are played for shock, not visceral thrills. This is not “Battle Royale.” Whether the popularity of the books and the movie confirm Collins’s critiques and mean that we, as consumers, are adopting our role as the Roman mob is a fair debate. But it is a debate that can be framed through discussions of the novels, and that, for me, is enough to elevate them above guilty pleasure entertainment.