The official numbers are in and Lionsgate will be drinking champagne for the rest of the year with a $155 million opening weekend pull for The Hunger Games, which is bigger than even the most hardcore fans expected. Those kind of numbers build a lot of intrigue for a movie that is already everywhere. Trevor and Jason laid out their review in the Episode 91 podcast, but for all those who are still in doubt over whether to see it or not, we’re going to break it down.
The short answer is yes, The Hunger Games are worth it. It’s a good movie, complete with a talented, well-acted cast and an action packed second half. The film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best selling novel does a fantastic job of showing the brutality of the Games, a constructed arena where 24 teenagers from around the fictional world of Panem are selected to fight each other to the death until only one “victor” remains. Josh Hutcherson really proves himself as Peeta Mellark, the baker boy who gets sentenced to almost certain death with Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen. Even Liam Hemsworth makes an impression with the ten seconds of screen time they give him. It is an entertaining and entrancing film, especially for those that haven’t read the book.
And there is the problem. Those who have read the book know that The Hunger Games shouldn’t be just a good movie, but a great one considering the source material. It’s amazing to see the Games themselves represented so well, but they fall flat when the context of their existence isn’t properly set-up. The theme of Suzanne Collins’ novel, and overall trilogy, is the contrast between the haves and have-nots. More importantly, it addresses how the friction between those two factions only needs a spark to light into revolution. Where the movie failed is showing that contrast between the districts and the oppressive Capitol. We get glimpses of the disparity in District 12, but almost nothing of the other struggling areas. The first 20 minutes of film rushes by without truly explaining the importance of Gale (Hemsworth) and why he and Katniss have to hunt outside the district boundaries – something that will become essential in the sequels (and after this much success there will definitely be sequels).
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A movie made based off a story this complex has a unique ability to show things from a universal perspective, rather than from Katniss’s limited point of view in the book. However, the power was misused here. We don’t see Gale having to submit his name to the Reaping (the lottery for Games contestants) extra times just to feed his starving family or the desperate working conditions of Rue’s farming family. Yet, we get an inside look at the game making process (something that doesn’t really occur until Book 2) and somewhat unnecessary commentary scenes from President Snow (Donald Sutherland). To add insult to injury, they cut corners in the last moments of the Games. The “muttations” are let loose minus their most terrifying characteristic – the faces of the deceased tributes, come back from the dead for another horrifying finish. For non-readers these may seem like a few missed details, but by neglecting these key features, director Gary Ross and the creative team behind this movie actually missed the overall point of the book.
So are The Hunger Games worth the hype? Yes, but do yourself a favor and read the book first. Then hope that the screenwriters for Catching Fire and Mockingjay do their homework and realize this isn’t a story purely about teenagers fighting to the death. It’s a story of human struggle, the evolution of mankind – and it’s going to take more than a short written intro and shaky close-ups of Jennifer Lawrence to put that across.