REVIEW: The Hunger Games

"You're better off reading the books."

In a future ravaged by World War III, twelve districts must offer one boy and one girl as tribute once a year for The Hunger Games, a televised death match where only one winner can immerge victorious.  When District 12's contestants are chosen, Katniss Everdeen, offers herself in exchange for her young sister, creating a stir of mixed emotions across the capitol and the world watching.  

As a writer and author, I have a great affinity for films based upon books.  Of course I've also been doing this long enough to see how that usually pans out.  Most authors are thrilled by the prospect of seeing their creations come to life, seeing their rich, detailed and complex characters flourish on the big screen.  Some novels, like Harry Potter, Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lector stories and The Lord Of The Rings were hits.  But then we had Eragon, many of James Patterson's Detective Cross stories and arguably the Narnia series, fall flat on their faces.  Why?  Who knows for sure.  Personally I prefer the HBO approach, making a novel into a ten or twelve hour epic season like Game Of Thrones, but TV series' don't always work either, just ask Terry Goodkind, author of The Sword Of Truth novels.  THE HUNGER GAMES may indeed be an entertaining page turner, but the film itself (the first one anyway) is a rather dull affair.

The hype train carrying this film was magical, putting this flick on the lips of anyone with eyes, ears and a heartbeat, but I'm afraid the hype was grossly exaggerated.  To be fair, this isn't TWILIGHT (thank Christ), but it doesn't deliver the promise of something beyond teenage appreciation.  I'm sure I'm not the first, nor will I be the last to compare this film to THE RUNNING MAN, one of Arnold's best actioneers in my humble opinion (based upon one of Stephen King's short stories if you didn't know).  It's my understanding THE HUNGER GAMES novels are as gory and violent as THE RUNNING MAN (I haven't read them), but you'd never know it by way of the film. 

I understand the approach of a PG-13 rating (cue The Apprentice theme song; MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, MOONNEEY), which slaps you hard (but not hard enough to draw blood) in the face with that messy, lazy and downright awful shaky cam approach to filmmaking.  Nothing makes me more furious than knowing something is happening, something important, and not clearly being able to see it.  Every fight scene or hint of violence was handled this way to keep from actually showing you what you knew was happening (that said, there wasn't a whole lot of action to begin with).  That works well with words on paper fuelled by imagination, but not on film, not when that's precisely what you paid to see.  As for the tone of the film, well, this whole thing reminds me of a slightly watered down version of HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHEONIX, if you can believe that, PHEONIX, being darker and more appealing clearly, as among other things, we get to relish in the demise of Edward Cullen (happy dance), but seriously, why wasn't this flick darker?

THE HUNGER GAMES sports a decent enough cast with Jennifer Lawrence at the helm, a rising star I am fond of these days, and though she does Katniss Everdeen justice on some levels I'm sure (especially when it comes to her hardened archery skills), it's not enough to sell you on the film.  Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci and Wes Bentley were great additions (I didn't care for Elizabeth Banks' annoying Effie character, and Donald Sutherland's presence is barely an afterthought), but something was still missing from this stale concoction.  Also, I would have loved to know how the mechanics of their playing field worked, I mean come on, there's a control room where people are just creating obstacles like fire balls and steroid induced looking dogs/wolves (which I've heard are described in the books as fallen tributes...a small but pertinent detail I feel would have added to the tension...had it been mentioned in the film) to come between, slow down or kill the tributes, yet we have no idea how that's possible and are expected to simply go with it.  I didn't go in with high expectations but I was hoping for something more.  True, it was watchable beyond TWILIGHT, but had nothing on the likes of HARRY POTTER or similar storylines from better films.  It did however, make tons of cash so we can expect more of Katniss in the near future which isn't so much a bad thing, though I'd settle for renting it rather than hitting the theatre...unless of course you're a rebellious teenage girl who digs archery. 

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