So unless you were hiding under a rock last weekend, you probably, at some point, got bowled over by the pop-culture juggernaut that is The Hunger Games. Based on a popular young adult book series, this film laid waste to box office records this weekend, as everyone and their mother turned out for the first tentpole flick of the season.
Having not read the books, I was curious to see what would unfold. I was familiar with the premise enough to initially be pissed off that they would DARE rip off Battle Royale (one of my all-time faves), water it down and feed it to thousands upon thousands of teens and moms. As we crept closer to release date, and early reactions started coming in from some trusted nerds and critics, I began to put my tantrum aside and legitimately became curious about the story and wanted to see what all of the hype was about.
The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future 70-something years after a massive civil war. After the rebels were beaten back, the douchebags in charge decreed that every year, each of the rebelling Districts would send one girl and one boy between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in The Hunger Games – a survival battle to the death, where only one competitor will remain standing. Our heroine is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a young girl who volunteers for the Games in place of her younger sister.
The Games themselves are kind of like if Battle Royale had a baby with American Idol and that baby’s playpen was the Holodeck. Millions of people are watching, cheering for their favorites, and the assholes running the game are backstage creating various creatures and various obstacles that are then made real inside the Arena (you know, because 24 kids killing each other isn’t interesting enough for the people watching at home).
I never found any particular moment of the Games themselves to be shocking. I understood the gravity of the situation, and several scenes created some great moments of tension, but the moments of pure horror that should accompany this premise were never there for me. I largely blame the PG-13 rating for that. I’m not complaining about it – this flick had to be PG-13. No way around it. But I do think the rating handicapped it in terms of some of the emotional magnitude that it should have carried. In the scene where the games first begin, you are never truly horrified as a group of teenagers begin slaughtering one another. The scene is somewhat of a chaotic mess, and you can’t really tell for sure what is going on, or even who you are looking at. I get it – it was absolutely necessary to gloss over these moments, but in doing so, I feel like they lessened the accompanying emotional impact that the moments might have carried.
Having not read the books, and going in with only a very basic understanding of the story, I did enjoy the film. It wasn’t perfect, but it was an entertaining piece of genre fiction that I appreciated the way they layered on information about the world and the games as needed, and refrained from giving us a massive idiot tutorial all at the beginning.
The Hunger Games was an entertaining piece of genre fiction and fun viewing experience. It was well-cast and the story was well-written. I’m sure that details from the books were changed or left out of the final film, but even so, as someone unfamiliar with the source materials, I thought that director Gary Ross told an exciting, well-rounded story, and I am excited for the next film. Though, if I am being PERFECTLY honest, if I had to choose one movie about a group of kids being forced to kill one another, it would still be Battle Royale. The Hunger Games probably could have benefited from a little more Beat Takeshi.