Immorality As Entertainment
Despite exhibiting a hazy premise and a low sense of morality, The Hunger Games will catapult Jennifer Lawrence into movie stardom, a feat which no independent production like Winter’s Bone could ever hope to do. The combination of earthly beauty and vulnerability proves a winning solution for this actress. Guided by writer/director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit), Lawrence emerges as a rough diamond here. The set-up is the hook, but it’s also the film’s primary flaw. A plot which has roots in the World Wrestling Entertainment industry (see the Royal Rumble) doesn’t make for a particularly original touch. Artistically, the film shows Ross’ directing style to be out of whack. He has not made a film in nine years. If the idea is to be like Terrence Malick and only make films occasionally, then my advice to Ross would be to fill in the plot holes first.
The Hunger Games falls short of creative expectations. The editing proves nimble enough; however, wobbly camerawork (courtesy of Tom Stern) and a less than imaginative score by James Newton Howard undermine a seemingly well-acted piece. For months, I waited in anticipation of hearing the music only to feel disappointment in its familiar themes and cadences.
Still, Jennifer Lawrence is very good as Katniss Everdeen, a resident of District 12 who volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the 74th Annual Hunger Games. She’s among the twenty four teenagers from the different districts chosen at random to compete. Only one person can win the tournament, earn fame and escape an impoverished existence.
In setting up the principle reason for the existence of The Hunger Games, Ross and co-writers Billy Ray and author Suzanne Collins resort to clichés. If you literally combine The Running Man with Surviving the Game and the WWE Royal Rumble, then you have The Hunger Games in a nutshell. By adapting the book to the screen, the filmmakers overlook the uninitiated completely. Quite simply, without experiencing the novel, certain plot points probably won’t make sense.
An adapted screenplay has to work as a singular entity because even a successful play or novel doesn’t necessarily guarantee that everyone will know the story going in. It’s an opportunity missed for Ross and a great motion picture not quite reached.
At no point does anyone point a finger at the hierarchy and say, “This is wrong!” Therefore, Ross shows no sense of right or wrong here. Without the proper context and background information, the code behind the games becomes like an unsolvable math equation, lost in shadowy exploitation.
(Released by Lionsgate and rated "PG-13" for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images -- all involving teens.)