Director: Gary Ross
“The Hunger Games” hit the big screen on March 23 and theaters were packed with eager fans. If you’ve read the books or if you’re OK with violence, the central theme of Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” book trilogy, then this movie was probably to your liking.
The movie takes place in Panem, a post-apocalyptic replacement for the United States, where power, propaganda and national identity inspire a certain violent tradition. The Capitol, an advanced city that holds the nation’s power, displays its power over 12 rural districts (that live to support the Capitol) through the Hunger Games. This titular event chooses two children from each district by lottery and then brings them together to fight to the death for the Capitol’s entertainment.
Katniss Everdeen, the 16-year-old heroine, volunteers when her 12-year-old sister is chosen. Jennifer Lawrence plays the character with enough aplomb to stand out from other notable female characters in pop culture, such as Hermione Granger and Lisbeth Salander.
Josh Hutcherson, playing Katniss’ fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark, may not have great chemistry with Lawrence, but he gives his character a delicate vulnerability that lends the movie much of its heart.
With the notable exception of Woody Harrelson’s wig, the makeup and costumes in “The Hunger Games” impress, particularly the scenes in which Peeta shows off his expert camouflaging skills. The citizens of District 12 wear drab colors and dirty clothes, evoking the depressed Ozarks of “Winter’s Bone,” Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout indie hit. That look contrasts strikingly when the movie gets to the Capitol, where the citizens wear enough ostentatious and colorful makeup and clothing that you could mistake them for fashionable clowns.
The most frustrating parts of “The Hunger Games,” though, are the poorly-lit set-pieces and the shaky-cam cinematography style employed by Tom Stern, Clint Eastwood’s regular cinematographer. This kind of look is generally employed to give a gritty, realistic feel to movies, but instead it comes off as headache-inducing and annoying. Sure, the style makes sense if Katniss is running through the forest escaping from the other tributes, but does it really need to be used when two characters are just having a regular conversation?
Director Gary Ross secures a PG-13 rating by lapsing into incoherence during the violent scenes, shaking the camera with greater velocity. While that method might be good for driving high box-office numbers and increasing tween attendance, it strips the movie of its violence, a great and unfortunate irony to the themes of the story.
But the worst part about this shaky-cam aesthetic is that it robs the story of its sense of scope for the sake of intimacy. Certain images from epic series stick in your memory: Harry Potter’s wide smile when he’s sorted into Gryffindor, the camera turning an upside-down Joker rightside-up and the one Ring being cast into Mount Doom. Not a single memorable image can be found in “The Hunger Games” — even great images in the book, such as the outfits designed for Katniss, are lacking.
“The Hunger Games” is an epic series about violence and the conscience of a nation. The movie adaptation does the story fair justice, but some of the larger ideas are lost.