If there's a better story than a bunch of kids forced to battle to the death, I don't want to hear it.
Actually, strike that. I totally want to hear it. Because kids fighting to the death is awesome. I'd read Lord of the Flies again right now except the TV is already on and screw it. Maybe I'll go think about Battle Royale in the shower. Wait, that's no good. What I mean is I need a shower, and I might pass the time, quite innocently, by reminiscing about the movie.
Maybe there's just no getting out of this one. Moving on. Anyway, while I'm firmly pro-"children killing children," I'm mostly anti-"hit YA novel," which I won't bother to explain because my reasons are all stupid. Still, that's why I've passed on reading The Hunger Games so far. But now that I've had a taste of the movie, I think I've changed my tune.
As punishment for a past rebellion, each year the 12 districts of a dystopian future must offer up one boy and one girl to the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death. When Jennifer Lawrence's little sister is chosen to represent her district, Lawrence volunteers in her place.
Lawrence is brought to the capitol for training, where her prowess with a bow turns some heads. But some districts train their children for the Games from birth. And only one contestant can leave the arena with their life.
It's always a treat to get your first proper exposure to a wildly popular cultural phenomenon. Before this weekend, I knew nothing about The Hunger Games besides the aforementioned fact it kind of sounded like Battle Royale (sweet) and that the books had sold more copies than The All-Nude Bible. But if the movie is a good reflection of the books -- and it's co-written and produced by author Suzanne Collins, so that's a good bet -- I see why the series is so popular.
Directed by Gary Ross, whose last movie (2003's Seabiscuit) was made so long ago we still had troops in Iraq, The Hunger Games is largely shot with a quiet confidence that makes minimal use of soaring music, dramatic crescendos or any of the other typical techniques to let us know that it is time to feel emotions. A lot of its best scenes are almost silent, letting the drama speak for itself. Considering how melodramatic death-duelin' teenagers could get, it's a welcome approach.
In fact, to cut to the chase, all of The Hunger Games is very solid. Lawrence's character is a bit dour. She'd probably get ditched at parties, but she'll never have to find that out because her district's economy is based entirely on squirrels. But she's a good actress in a heroic, canny role -- the kind of upstanding hero you can really root for.
The story's well-plotted, too, covering all kinds of ground while keeping a light touch on the exposition and never slowing down.
Thing is, maybe it should have. There are a whole lot of side characters here and none get their due, especially Woody Harrelson as a former winner of the Games who becomes Lawrence's drunken mentor. It's tough, because The Hunger Games is well over two hours long and there's nothing that should obviously be cut (besides, of course, every scene where children aren't killing each other with spears and knives). Still, the world is very broadly drawn. Who are all these capitol fops with immaculate anime hair glued to talk shows featuring celebrity gladiators? I mean, besides us?
This pervasive shallowness means The Hunger Games can't really set the stage for a huge payoff. Still, it does just about everything else right. Well-paced, well-acted and shot through with some shocking yet blood-light violence, it's a very good start to the series.