After sitting down last month to watch a Blu-ray import of ‘Battle Royale’, I finally learned why so many people make the comparison between that Japanese cult film and ‘The Hunger Games’. When ‘Battle Royale’ ended, I thought, “There’s no way that an Americanized PG-13 version can be better than this bloody, R-rated massacre movie.” I then began to dread the big screen adaptation of ‘The Hunger Games’ – but I shouldn’t have.
In essence, the plot of ‘The Hunger Games’ is exactly like that of ‘Battle Royale‘. A group of kids is forced to fight to the death in a dangerous and unpredictable environment, kind of like the Thunderdome. Had the spectating masses in ‘Hunger Games’ started chanting, “24 enter, one man leaves,” I might have given the movie five stars. Mind you, because of all the P.C. crap going on these days, it would be, “24 enter, one man or woman leaves,” which just doesn’t flow as smoothly.
The first half of this 141-minute movie establishes the moody world in which our characters live. The rich are really rich and the poor are really poor. Our two main characters are from the poorest district in the nation. For that, they’re expected to be the least liked by the wealthy folk. A good chunk of the movie is dedicated to showing them obtain celebrity status and become the most rooted-for couple in the death match. Being popular means that you’ll get special gifts from “sponsors.”
The second half is when the goods get delivered. The games begin in a grand and glorious fashion. I just wish the film didn’t have the limitations of a PG-13 rating. While it’s still fairly graphic and violent, I don’t believe that it exceeds the boundaries of a PG-13. Still, I’d definitely caution parents about the gore before allowing younger teenagers to see it.
Being based on a wildly popular Young Adult book series begs some comparisons to other teen pop-culture franchises. Is ‘The Hunger Games’ like ‘Twilight‘? Hell no. It’s much better than that. ‘Harry Potter‘? Not quite, but it’s definitely more on the ‘Potter’ side than the ‘Twilight’ side.
I have two qualms with ‘The Hunger Games’ that would most likely be resolved should Lionsgate ever put out an extended cut. First, the opening ten minutes of the movie are shaky. Nothing hooks or reels you in. Any excitement is trumped by the depressing tone. Not until the lottery is held and the players are chosen at random does the movie pick up. After that, ‘The Hunger Games’ will better hold your interest. Despite being nearly two and a half hours long, I never once checked the time.
My second beef is with the characterization. There’s a lack of connection between the characters. This disconnect not only exists between the characters themselves, but the characters and the audience as well. I really only cared for the central character, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). Certain characters are killed off, but their deaths carry no emotional charge because of this problem. Thank heaven that a supporting cast of fantastic actors set outside the battle arena help push the film along. Said supporting actors include Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson.
Think back to the final installments of the ‘Harry Potter’ series, take that down just one small notch, and that’s what you get with ‘The Hunger Games’. It’s a very well-made movie. The only filmmaking flaws are some mediocre visual effects in the climax that leave a few beasts looking like the party-crashing demon dogs from ‘Ghostbusters’. Only in this one small way does the production value lack. Aside from that, ‘The Hunger Games’ looks fantastic. Hopefully, the expected monster box office will give Lionsgate enough financial freedom to make the sequels look better, just as ‘Twilight’ gave Summit Entertainment unlimited freedom.
I have not read the books, but my wife (who accompanied me to Monday’s press screening) claims that the movie is mostly accurate to the novel. The majority of changes were supposedly small and result from the expected “adapting for the medium” reasons. As much as I didn’t think I’d like ‘The Hunger Games’, I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is a franchise that I’m on-board with, and a worthy replacement for the void left by ‘Harry Potter’.