"The Hunger Games" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
There is no doubt about it that Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" franchise took the world by storm when both the books and films were released. Even in 2023, we are receiving a new film based off the prequel to her series, "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes". When looking back and rewatching the first film in the franchise around eleven years later, it definitely stands the test of time and shows why this series was so popular and successful, practically launching the career of leading lady Jennifer Lawrence.
The movie opens up with a text sprawl, letting those who are not familiar with the novels that there was an uprising in a futuristic country, forcing the capitol to split their nation into 12 different districts and ruling with an iron fist. To never let their citizens forget the pain they have caused to the country and the leaders, they bring upon the cruel Hunger Games, a sadistic televised competition where they pit one boy and one girl from each district to fight to the death until one victor remains. That is where we are when the film opens on Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), a teenage girl who is preparing for the Reaping, alongside her younger sister Prim (Willow Shields), who must face the Reaping for the first time.
When the unexpected happens and Prim is called to participate in the 47th Hunger Games, Katniss shocks the nation by volunteering as tribute, a first in District 12. Now, her and fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), must make their way to the Capitol, where they will train and prepare themselves for the bloody games in the arena. Tensions run high while conflicts and friendships form, and they all know only one of them will come out of all of this alive.
In terms of the book to film adaptation, there are some major flaws. Sure, no film is the exact same as the novel it is based off. But, there are some aspects, such as how Katniss gets the Mockingjay pin, that are so far off from what happened in the book, and for no reason whatsoever. However, I think this is perhaps one of those films where the disconnect between the book and film isn't that concerning. On its own, I think the movie does a fantastic job of retelling the story that Collins set up in her novels, and really brings her characters onto the big screen.
Lawrence and Hutcherson give incredible performances as our two main leads, and they honestly do have great chemistry with one another. Lawrence, in her breakout role even though she gave stellar performances in past films like Winter's Bone, really embodies the character of Katniss and gives it her all in every scene she is in. She is very charismatic, but she is able to show fear and struggle that is breaking out from under that facade she puts on in front of everyone else. Hutcherson, on the other hand, is the more sentimental and emotional of the two. He practically wears his heart on his sleeve, and thanks to Hutcherson's emotional performance, it makes the viewer fall in love with his character. He is so easily likable that you want his character to make it out alive, as much as you want Katniss to make it home to Prim.
In terms of the minor characters here, I would say they standout as much as our two leads. We have Effie (Elizabeth Banks), whose hair and makeup are perhaps as big of a star as the actress that plays her is; Woody Harrelson does a fantastic job of playing the drunk, demented coach Haymitch; Lenny Kravitz is of course cool and suave as his character Cinna should be. However, Donald Sutherland steals the show in the scenes he is in. He plays President Snow, a character that is not truly set up as a major villain until the later films. Sure, he's evil and despicable here as well, but there is something about him that turns the viewer's stomach. He is shown as just a simple old man living out his presidency, but Sutherland is able to add that uneasiness to his character and make him downright vile.
In terms of pacing, the movie moves along quite nicely, and it doesn't feel like it is just bouncing from plot point to plot point, which is what the film is basically doing in the middle half. When we get to the second half of the film, which takes place inside the arena as the tributes must now fight to the death, the movie takes a complete change in tone. It's disturbing, sad, messy, and downright stomach-churning. One in particular that stands out is when a little boy with curly red hair is brutally slain by the district one boy tribute (Alexander Ludwig) when he is just trying to hide from everyone. When we get into the arena, there are times that feel a lot slower than others, and I think they honestly could have made it a little faster-paced. But, when looking at it as a whole, I think all of the arena scenes are done quite nicely.
This film practically kicked off the wave of YA dystopian novel film adaptations, and I think this was a great film to usher in this new genre. This is a great adaptation of a popular novel, and I think the actors here really gave it their all throughout the movie. If I was Suzanne Collins, I would be very proud of what my novel was turned into.
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