Important note: I haven’t read “The Hunger Games”. After discussing the movie with several people who have read the book, its become clear the difference in experience is fairly stark. So, please know that I am reviewing the movie with a clean slate and no preconceived notions or expectations relating to the story.
Okay, so, The Hunger Games!! I was excited to see this movie and went in with high expectations having heard good things about the books. Here’s my review in a nutshell: The Hunger Games is pretty good. It is entertaining, and the pacing isn’t as bad as some other high profile movies this spring (here’s looking at you John Carter). Nevertheless, I cannot shake the feeling that this movie is closer to a big-budget made-for-TV movie than a blockbuster theatrical release.
Of course, saying it’s similar to a made-for-TV movie might sound unfair, but that’s just the best way I can think to describe it. Maybe I should say it’s made-for-TV-esque. What I mean is the movie was just lacking a certain amount of polish that is usually on display for such highly touted releases. I’ll go into more detail, but first, I want to say that in honor of The Hunger Games being called The ‘Hunger’ Games, this already unbelievably amazing review will utilize a wonderful gimmick called “Feast or Famine” to more fully understand what made it feel closer to Walker, Texas Ranger than The Dark Knight (yes, that is drastic, over-the-top hyperbole).
(Quickly, here’s how Feast or Famine works – I list a touch point for the film and then say if it was a Feast or a Famine. Durrrrr….)
Acting: Feast/Famine – Ohhhhh getting things started with a combo pick!! Didn’t see that coming! Okay, so the acting was neither great nor terrible. Most of the players were competent and didn’t ruin the movie. I especially liked Stanley Tucci as the Master of Ceremonies guy who interviews all the contestants. Donald Sutherland was Donald Sutherland – he’s reached the point where he’s operating at about 60% capacity and still getting it done, so kudos to him. And Woody Harrelson!! What a pleasant surprise! I saw this movie with Nick and Brazle, and Nick and I both got excited when Woody walked on screen. He’s awesome.
As for the leads, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson did the best they could. They don’t seem destined for mega-stardom (they could both mature into thoughtful, nuanced players for all I know), but they competently filled in the lead spots. I told my buddy Mattress about the movie and how it was just okay, not great, and his main question was, ‘did it seem less good because there were no big-name actors in the lead roles?’. I liked that question. It is a little of the ‘chicken and egg’ thing – do great movies propel actors to stardom, or do great actors shine and make movies better? I responded that big-names seem to become big because they turn in great performances; none of these performances were great, so I suppose it did suffer from a lack of big-name talent in the lead roles. Altogether, all the younger actors felt very replaceable; they had low VORP (that’s a baseball stat – “value over replacement player”).
Directing: Famine – The movie is uninspired, and just like businesses have their tones set from the top, so also do movies. There aren’t many instances I can point to that were atrociously flat, but the movie overall just felt a little stale. I can’t help but attribute that to the director. By the way, the best moments always seemed to involve Stanley Tucci – all those interview portions had good energy and left a good impression. The worst moment was the shaky Bourne2 style of camera work in the first 10 minutes. Gary Ross must have had his heart more attuned to the $$ than to releasing a killer movie. Maybe he’s still running off the cachet he built for himself with Big.
Story: Feast – the story is the best thing about this movie. If I watch it again, it will be for the story. But, in light of the staleness of the film, I think I will skip a second viewing and read the book instead. By the way, I have NOT read the book yet, but I’ve heard its way better. That seems so typical, but there are instances where great movies can be born of books; here’s to you Jurassic Park, The Bourne Identity, and The Lord of the Rings. Those titles all did two things well: (1) they kept the original spirit of the book, and (2) they left the book behind when it became clear it would be impossible to film the book from cover-to-cover and still present a great film. The Hunger Games tries to keep the spirit of the book intact, but it fails to make the necessary adjustments to make the film presentation great. Oh well.
(Okay, I want this last section to be a Feast, but I’m having a really hard time coming up with something that seemed awesome enough.)
Oh! I know!!
CGI Train Sequences: FEAST – the CGI train was great.
The only other thing that jumps out about the movie is a slight Famine: the sets/props. The largest reason the movie felt so made-for-TV is the weak (read: cheap) props and set pieces. One of my all-time favorite sci-fi movies is Serenity, and it too suffered from a scooch of bad props/sets, so I hesitate to kill a movie too much based on this category. The difference between Serenity and The Hunger Games is massive, though. In Serenity, the Acting, Directing, and Story are all FEASTS, making the bad props/sets just a little fly in the ointment. For THG, they’re almost the straw to break the camel’s back.
Thankfully, the camel’s back wasn’t entirely broken, and I can confidently recommend The Hunger Games, at least as a dollar movie. Or you can wait for it to come on TV – it would only seem right.
Grant Stevens is one of the greatest freelance writers to have ever been the featured Saturday night pianist at the Skirvin Hilton’s Red Piano bar. He won the Newberry Medal for his picture book with no words and the Caldecott award for his word book with no pictures, and he a strong advocate for the correct usage of the word ironic. In his spare time he sells houses for Ideal Homes in OkC’s Valencia community.