The Hunger Games is a hit film based on the books by Suzanne Collins. I've read all three books within the trilogy. The first book, which this movie is based on, was fantastic. Catching Fire, the second book, wasn't bad and the third book was awful. I had high hopes for liking this movie. A majority of the buzz I had heard was excellent also. Sadly I ended up being disappointed.
First off, if you did not read the book then I believe your enjoyment of the film is much more limited. It is very difficult to adapt a popular book for the big screen and it often ends up a letdown for readers. I tried to factor that into my expectations and yet this film nevertheless let me down. There was not a lot of passion in the characters. They are supposed to be in a life or death situation and although Jennifer Lawrence (starring as Katmiss) did an incredible job I did not really feel the urgency or terror from their situation from the other actors. Peeta never once appears to act like his life is at risk. It's kill or be killed and everyone is pretty lackadaisical about it.
The Hunger Games is set within the post-apocalyptic world of Panem. The Capitol is where most of the people live and it is surrounded by its poor cousins, the "districts". Each district produces something the Capitol needs (electronics, power, food, etc.). The districts are progressively poorer and worse off the lower number they are. District 1 (luxury products) is a great deal wealthier and better off than District 12 (coal mining) which is where our heroes, Katmiss and Peeta, hail from. Seventy-four years ago there was a massive rebellion by the districts. The Capitol ultimately prevailed after annihilating District 13 completely. The other districts were eventually brought back in line and every year the "Hunger Games" is held to remind the districts of the cost of rebellion.
The Hunger Games is a fight to the death by 24 contestants, two from every district. It is set inside a massive, artificial arena where the Gamekeepers control everything. Hidden cameras are everywhere and the Games are televised to the Capitol and all the districts. Contestants are selected in the "reaping" each year. All kids aged 12-18 have their names in a bin. The older you are the more entries you have. So a 12-year-old has a single chance to be picked while a 15-year-old has 4 chances to be chosen as a tribute and so on. One boy and one girl from each district are taken to the Capitol and forced to compete. They are given extensive makeovers by stylists who craft an image based on the district they are from. They are interviewed on television and treated like stars and then they enter the arena and only one emerges alive.
The Reaping for the 74th Hunger Games in District 12 sees Primrose Everdeen selected as a tribute. Prim is the terrified 12-year-old sister of Katmiss. As Prim is led to the stage Katmiss steps forward and volunteers to take her place. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker's son, is chosen to represent the boys and they are taken to the Capitol with their mentor Haymitch. Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch who is the only living winner from District 12. Katmiss and Peeta are given makeovers and presented on television where Peeta professes his love for Katmiss. Is this a ploy to win sympathies from the crowd (who can send necessary gifts to the tributes in the course of the Games) or is it genuine?
The action picks up once the Games actually start. This is the only point that you really feel the terror the tributes must feel. Do you run to the woods and hide or stay and try to grab weapons and supplies? It's a maddening few minutes as blades slice through the air, blood is spilled and some tributes fall. On advice from Haymitch, Katmiss ran into the forest to hide it out. From here the action begins slowing down. You never get a real feel for the other tributes. Katmiss meets up with Rue, the young 12-year-old tribute from District 11, they bond and work well together even destroying the supplies of the dominant player's. Peeta and Katmiss reunite eventually although Peeta has been wounded. At one point in the movie the rules are changed and it's announced that this year there can be two winners provided they are from the same district, this is because the audience has bought into the love story of Peeta and Katmiss. The action is uneven and it seems filmmakers wanted to tame down the violence in the film versus the book.
Spoilers from this point on so be warned. One of the most emotional moments in the book is when Rue dies. Katmiss is devastated and the reader is drawn in to her anguish. I felt no emotion at all during the scene in the movie. Perhaps it's because we barely knew Rue or perhaps it's the way it was directed. The meaning of Rue's death is further degraded when they cut out Rue's district sending Katmiss a loaf of bread as a gift. Gifts from sponsors have always come from wealthy people in the Capitol or from your own district. So it was unprecedented that District 11 so appreciated Katmiss' caring for Rue, singing to her until she passed, covering her body with flowers, etc. that they sent a gift. I'm not certain why they cut this from the film however it will impact the next two films and it took a lot of the emotion out of this movie.
The film was also just too long. Running time is 142 minutes and this really should have been cut down. There were several flashbacks to things we already saw like Katmiss acquiring her Mockingjay pin (the film completely ignored the significance of the pin) that were pointless. It is like the director felt the audience was too dumb to remember scenes we already saw. Cutting out these pointless flashbacks would have cut down the length of the movie.
I liked Jennifer Lawrence's performance and I feel Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson worked well with what they were given. The other actors were too flat for me. I did not care what happened to them. I did not buy Peeta's love for Katmiss which in the books is very real. Here it just seemed forced. It was a real effort to get through this film. I found myself checking my phone and glancing at the time remaining over and over again.
On a scale of 1-10 I'd have to give this a 5 for those who already read the book. If you did not read the book then a 4 is the very best I can give The Hunger Games. I wanted to like it a lot more, I genuinely enjoyed the book but the movie was too long, too flat and too tamed down for me.