Killing, capitalism, and playing to the rich is a matter of survival in Hunger Games. This gorgeous, well-acted drama based on the book The Hunger Games leaves the audience hungry when the garden of themes it planted and watered fails to produce fruit.
Every year a girl and a boy age 12-18 from the twelve districts that rebelled in a civil war are chosen by lottery to participate in the Hunger Games, an annual televised event at the Capitol where only one comes out alive. In one of the districts, dutiful older sister and daughter Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is selected along with baker’s son Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) to participate. Once they arrive at the Capitol, they are taught how to play the game and the game is primarily played outside the arena.
The screen glistens as Hunger Games presents beautiful scene after awe-inspiring scene. Everything from the sets, the location, the makeup, and the costumes are choreographed perfectly to give the viewer a sense of mood, time, space, scale, and place.
Visuals are repeatedly used to articulate a theme in Hunger Games. There is a scene with a child, his parents, and a former winner of the Hunger Games somewhere in the Capital that has no words, occurs quickly but conveys economic, social, moral and legal disparities in a way that spoken dialogue could not do.
Such visuals and a plot so driven by situation rely on a cast of actors who will not be outshined. Hunger Games has such a cast. The cast, including Stanley Tucci, and Woody Harrelson, grasped onto their characters and presented them, warts and all, without hesitation to the audience. I was especially fond of Jennifer Lawrence. She gave Katniss a plethora of contradictory personality traits without making them seem unnatural or trite.
Regrettably it is the plot and its pacing that lowers the films overall quality. The lack of an ending, repeated undeveloped themes, unnecessary characters, gratuitous events, and overall plot shallowness that made Hunger Games a frustrating cinematic experience. Writers Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins (also the book’s author), and Billy Ray skip plot stones across the film. A character appears, is tossed across the pond, and disappears. An event is shot across the pond and then sinks away. It made me especially agitated because it pushes so many important and relevant societal buttons.
It seems the writers are trying to say something about capitalism, about bread and circuses, about the obvious unfairness of our economic system, but they never do anything but hint at it. I felt like someone was holding a rubber band to my face but never let it free to lay a sting on me. I just tilted my head and squinted, annoyed by the potential pain that was coming and learning nothing.
Don’t get me wrong, I hate it when filmmakers decide to bash you over the head with themes but Hunger Games does not even try to get into our heads. It is as if writer/director Gary Ross did not have the courage or weight with the studio to pull the trigger on such an emotionally, and politically charged topic as economic disparities.
As a consequence, Hunger Games is nothing more meaningful than the quality of conversation with a beautiful super-model of below-average intellect discussing philosophy; it can only seem meaningful if more focused on looks than content. Hunger Games is not a complete waste of time but people who value depth will find it lacking any value that is not purely aesthetic.
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