Movie: Hunger Games

In one sentence: Good, but fell short of my expectations.

Probably one of the most awaited and hyped films this year, The Hunger Games had all the elements needed for a blockbuster down pat: a gorgeous set of lead characters, led by Oscar-nominated Jennifer Lawrence (I still can’t separate her from her role as Mystique in last summer’s Xmen: First Class), Liam Hemsworth (or more famous as Miley Cyrus’ boyfriend) and Josh Hutcherson (Zathura, Journey to the Center of the Earth, among other films), an equally gorgeous set of supporting characters led by Lenny Kravitz (seriously, they should have put him in more scenes), a good story (based on the bestselling Hunger Games trilogy), and a capable team of writers which includes the author herself, Suzanne Collins, which practically guaranteed that the movie will be as faithful to the book as possible.
Katniss and Gale

Katniss and Peeta
Initially, Lawrence got flak for being too fat to play the role of Katniss. I tend to agree. But then, she also has that quiet charm about her. She’s not exceptionally pretty but there is something intriguing about her beauty that makes you want to keep looking at her. And I think she pulled off the role quite well, although her acting did not really stand out. Honestly though, I felt that this wasn’t really due to Lawrence’s acting chops, but that she wasn’t given much opportunity to shine. True, the books were a rich source but what could have been emotionally charged scenes were too abrupt to make any impact.  
As for Hutcherson, he churned out quite an honest portrayal but comparing the Peeta I know from the books to the Peeta on-screen, I just wish they’d given him more compelling dialogue. I was expecting to be moved by the Katniss/Peeta affair but I was not.
I really can’t put my finger to it why the movie seems off somehow. The director smartly opted not to use too much special effects and it helped to emphasize the stark atmosphere in Panem and allowed the audience to focus more on the emotional struggles of each character, and the political undertones the story so smoothly inserted there. But what probably contributed to the detachment I felt watching the film was the combination of the dizzying use of handheld cameras zooming in and panning out practically on anything and everywhere and the almost hour-long prelude before the actual hunger games. I appreciate that the director, Gary Ross, used handheld cameras to give the viewers a sense of unity with Katniss, as if you’re seeing it through her point of view. However, as part of the audience, I found this rather dizzying and not exactly friendly to people suffering from motion sickness. Plus, there were too many abrupt scenes, like the director didn’t know when to yell cut and the actors and cameramen just got bored and moved on to the next one.
Another gripe I have is that there were some scenes or circumstances which were not explored more, or depicted better in the film, such as giving more background and emotion into the friendship between Katniss (Lawrence) and Gale (Hemsworth), and the dynamics between Haymitch and his two mentees. However, I appreciated this approach when the time for the bloodbath came – in the hopes of getting a PG-13 rating, the director opted to do away with the gory and bloody details of teenagers brutally killing each other. I don’t have a queasy stomach but there is always something unsettling seeing young people, practically kids, being violent.
And even without a musical score playing in every crucial scene, the movie was not without its tearjerker moments: I cried buckets as Prim walked slowly to the podium after her name was drawn, while Katniss stood transfixed, amazed at the incredible bad luck of Prim having been selected even though her name was entered only once, and when she finally woke up and volunteered to take her sister’s place. I cried even harder as Katniss held and sang for the dying Rue in her arms.
I did notice that they changed the story of how Katniss got the mockingjay pin which she wore in the arena, although I feel quite certain that an alternative but equally powerful history will be provided in later instalments of the franchise.
Overall, what had always kept me riveted to the Hunger Games were its political underpinnings, causing the successive tragedies that happened to the characters. These were all subtly intertwined with the romantic story of the star-crossed lovers from District 12 although if you analyze it long enough, the romantic aspect is actually just a by-product. This truth was not lost in the screen adaptation. And while the setting of Hunger Games is far into the future, the situation could very well be found today. The slums in the districts, the inequitable distribution of wealth between the citizens of the ruling Capitol and the dirt poor and deplorable conditions of the districts… these are all things we know and see daily. The Hunger Games is, ultimately, not a love story, or an action/adventure one, but a sort of social criticism. 
* Photos from google images

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