Friday, March 30, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012)

It’s no surprise that the next Twilight, the next Da Vinci Code, the next Harry Potter was going to be the Hunger Games. This highly anticipated adaptation has had the masses lusting over the movie for months after the success of the trilogy. I read the first book in a weekend; It’s a quick read but you can tell the author Suzanne Collins did not want the book to appear too gratuitous so it could appeal to younger readers. The movie took the same approach with a PG-13 rating. My first impression of the book was fairly flat- uninhabited and missing something. The Hunger Games shocked the American audience by portraying a futuristic world where kids fight other kids to the death. Unfortunately this is not a novel concept; Japan was fortunate to get a novel and a movie out of Battle Royale back in 1999 and 2000 respectively, which like most concepts in the U.S. appeared to have been ripped off by Collins, but Collins maintains her innocents in never hearing about that story until her book was turned in. It’s almost been 10 years since I saw Battle Royale, but its moments were so vivid and etched in my memory, that after reading and watching Hunger Games, there’s just not enough creativity to think the movie is anything special.

The Hunger Games is number 8 (out of 20) on my anticipated movies of 2012. I wish I had put it lower or had replaced it completely. Director Gary Ross paid very close homage to the original works by not straying too far from the source material. In an effort to satisfy fans of the book, you will know every next scene in the movie, possibly even the next lines.

Where the Hunger Games comes up short is through the storytelling. The book is narrated through the 16 year old mind of Katniss, who explains every emotion, every thought, and every bit of her excruciating experience through the Hunger Games. Every single death is felt by Katniss no matter how brutal, which she describes through fear and humility. The movie cannot depict this. Instead, it adheres to a PG-13 rating where the deaths happen quickly, sometimes in slow motion with off camera shots. We never know about most of the kids aside from the snarling looks we are given before the Games begin. From the audience perspective, those are the bad kids and then there is Katniss, so it’s OK that these other kids die in the meantime. The supporting characters are completely undeveloped and it hurts the emotion on screen, especially if you have read the book.

Overall, I suppose it is not a terrible adaptation. It’s hard to overlook the huge marketing strategy of the trilogy’s followers- The studio of course wanted Twilight boxoffice receipts out of this. They sure got it with $155 million weekend opening, almost breaking the Dark Knight’s record of $158 mil. The average movie-goer will probably enjoy it. I just can’t sit back and pretend it’s anything special while this story has been done before (and better) over 10 years ago. Watch Battle Royale instead.