Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is the story about a post-apocalyptic world where a young girl volunteers, in place of her younger sister, to be part of a game where kids kill other kids in a televised contest. In the game, she has to survive while she would befriend one of her competitors. Directed by Gary Ross and script adaptation by Ross, Collins, and Billy Ray, the film is the first part of a trilogy of stories about a young girl who would eventually rebel against the games that would force her to kill various people. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Furhman, Willow Shields, and Donald Sutherland. The Hunger Games is a sprawling yet chilling film from Gary Ross.
In the aftermath of an apocalyptic period that left parts of Panem in poverty and separated in 12 different districts. Children between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected to participate in a brutal game of survival where only one survives in game known as the Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a young girl whose younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) has just turned 12 as the selections of who will represent the district is ahead. Led by its representative Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Primrose is selected until Katniss decides to volunteer while a teen named Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is also selected to represent District 12. Sent to the lavish Capitol City, Katniss and Peeta meet their mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) who shows them what to do while Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) helps them get ready to be introduced for the world.
The game’s director Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) meets with President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to discuss the upcoming games while Katniss and Peeta try to deal with the media attention where Haymitch helps them in doing what is to be said as they’re portrayed as star-crossed lovers. With Katinss being the odds on favorite despite the competition that is ahead, the Hunger games go underway. In the course of two weeks, many are immediately killed as Peeta reluctantly joins the sadistic Cato (Alexander Ludwig) in an alliance while Katniss tries to evade everything despite making a few friends along the way. Yet, she realizes what is going on as many watching where rules are eventually changed as she does everything she can to survive this game.
The film is the story of a young girl from a post-apocalyptic world who volunteers for her younger sister to be in the games. Unaware of how brutal the games are as well as what the powers that be are trying to do in order to make the game much more complicated. She does all that she can to survive but she becomes emotionally attached to those she starts to care about including her old friend Peeta who is the underdog in these games. Yet, it would be seen by these people who run the game as they hope to make a big event out of their relationship where emotions run high and things become complicated.
The story about the game itself where children have to kill children in order to survive definitely harkens back to the story Lord of the Flies. The screenplay that is created succeeds in exploring the circumstances these characters have to do. It’s not just in the game they’re playing but also make an impression for those watching on TV all over the country. Behind the scenes become much more complicated as the game’s director sees something that can get ratings but the actions of Katniss will end up threatening everything where even the country’s president starts to notice. A lot of its narrative is told from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen who is this young woman that is just trying to take care of her younger sister and mother in this poverty stricken town. She also has a boyfriend in Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) whom she also cares for. When she volunteers to spare her sister’s life from participating in these games where it’s very likely that she’ll die. She realizes that it’s not just training to survive that she must do.
Since it’s a media event, she has to be presentable to a public clamoring for people to root for. She may be the most skilled person in these games where she would make a grand impression on Crane. She is also the most troubled due to the emotional baggage that she’s carrying as her mentor Hamish is a former participant that remains haunted by his own participation as he tries to help her out as well as Peeta. Peeta may not be as interesting as Katniss as his only skills of survival is his strength and to hide via camouflage. He is aware of the dangers and the fact that he’s a long shot while he also has feelings for Katniss. Though the script does have a few flaws since there is a lot of exposition needed to be explained. It does succeed in creating an element of suspense and terror that occurs as well as creating a world that is truly surreal.
Gary Ross’ direction is pretty good for the way he creates this very different world through amazing wide shots for its locations, in North Carolina, as well as being in the center of the chaos that occurs in these games. He definitely knows how to build suspense in the scenes during the game where it’s all about the uncertainty of survival and what people will do to get ahead. Though a lot of the film in that section isn’t as plot-driven as the film’s first half, Ross does do enough to make it very engaging. Even in moments where he knows to slow things down so that some of the characters can catch a break and strategize.
While it’s among a lot of the highlights of the film that Ross does, the one part of the direction that doesn’t entirely work is the approach to shooting the film on hand-held cameras. In some parts of the dramatic moments of the film as well as the action scenes, the hand-held camera shots do become too shaky where it becomes confusing over what is happening. While it’s not as shaky as some of the current action films of the 2010s, it does become jarring at time where there’s a demand for the camera to remain still. Ross is able to create some amazing tracking shots and controlled camera work yet it’s the hand-held material that really falls flat for the film. Despite the flaws in the direction, Ross is able to succeed in making a solid and entertaining action-thriller.
Cinematographer Tom Stern does a nice job with the film‘s colorful yet lush cinematography from the naturalistic look of the forest scenes to the more extravagant lighting schemes for the capital city scenes. Editors Stephen Mirrione and Juliette Welfing, w/ additional work from Christopher S. Capp, do excellent work in the editing to play up the chaos of the Hunger Games while not delving too much into traditional fast-edits for the action scenes despite the shaky hand-held camera work. Production designer Philip Messina, along with set decorator Larry Dias and art director John Collins, do great work with the set pieces such as the design of the capitol city world as well as the interiors for the training room and penthouses the games‘ participants live in.
Costume designer Judianna Makovsky does an extraordinary job with the lavish costumes created for the film that includes the dresses that many of the female characters and participants wear for the interviews portion of the pre-game scenes. Makeup designer Ve Neill does brilliant work with the crazy look of Effie Trinket as well as some of the camouflage that Peeta wears. Visual effects supervisor Sheena Duggal does some very good work with some of the visual effects made such as the capital city exteriors, the game console room where creatures are created, and the fire that Katniss has to wear on her costume to make her first impression to the public.
Sound editor Lon Bender and sound designer William R. Dean do terrific work with the sound from the naturalistic environment of the Hunger Games location as well as the sound of cannons to signify a death in the game as well as raucous crowd sounds in the capitol city scenes. The film’s score by James Newton Howard wonderful for the bombastic orchestral pieces that is created in some of the film‘s tense moments, notably in the Hunger Games scene, while some of the music is mixed in with dabbles of folk and country courtesy of music supervisor T-Bone Burnett who also compiles a soundtrack ranging from folk to country to play the poverty-world that Katniss and Peeta lived in at District 12.
The casting by Debra Zane is superb for the ensemble that is created for the film as it includes notable small roles from Toby Jones as a Hunger Games reporter, Willow Shields as Katniss’ sister Primrose, Liam Hemsworth as Katniss’ friend Gale, Stanley Tucci as the games’ flamboyant emcee Caesar Flickerman, Lenny Kravitz as the sympathetic make-up artist Cinna, and Elizabeth Banks in a very lavish performance as games representative Effie Trinket. In the roles of some of the participants of the Hunger games, there’s standout performances from Amanda Stenberg as the young District 11 participant Rue, whom Katniss befriends, and Isabelle Fuhrman as the sadistic Clove. In the role of the vicious Cato, Alexander Ludwig is terrible in the part as he is very unconvincing in playing a smug, despicable character. Wes Bentley is excellent as the controlling Seneca Crane who tries to mastermind the game on his own terms.
Donald Sutherland is wonderful as the devious President Snow who tries to control everything around him including the games. Woody Harrelson is brilliant as the troubled mentor Haymitch Abernathy who tries to show Katniss and Peeta the ropes to survive while aiding them outside the confine of the games. Josh Hutcherson is good as Peeta who tries to deal with his odds as well as his feelings for Katniss though it’s not entirely remarkable as Hutcherson seems lost in his portrayal of the young kid who doesn’t have a lot of survival skills other than to hide and have physical strength. Finally, there’s Jennifer Lawrence in a marvelous performance as Katniss Everdeen as Lawrence brings a real sense of grit and determination to a character trying to survive as well as wonderment when she deals with the world she’s in. It’s a true star-making performance for the young actress as she makes Katniss Everdeen her own.
The Hunger Games is a stellar yet thrilling film from Gary Ross that features a mesmerizing performance from Jennifer Lawrence. While the film is flawed due to a few directorial decisions, it is still a very engaging story that explores a dystopian world where it’s all about survival that features a strong female protagonist. In the end, The Hunger Games is an enjoyable suspense-drama from Gary Ross.
Gary Ross Films: (Pleasantville) - (Seabiscuit)
The Hunger Games Films: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - (Mockingjay Pt. 1) - (Mockingjay Pt. 2)
The Hunger Games Films: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire - (Mockingjay Pt. 1) - (Mockingjay Pt. 2)
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