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The Hunger Games—movie review

by Leonard Maltin
March 22, 2012 8:53 PM
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Jennifer Lawrence-Hunger Games-485
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As someone who hasn’t read Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of novels, going to see The Hunger Games “cold,” I felt comforted by the presence of two young actors I admire, Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Given the downbeat nature of the story, set in a bleak future world, having warm-blooded actors who can bring life and depth to their characters is crucial.

As in any screen adaptation, this one skimps on details that are undoubtedly fleshed out in print, but we learn just enough about the ground rules of this society, made up of hedonistic “haves” and hardscrabble “have-nots,” to set the stage. The annual Hunger Games are a no-holds-barred fight to the finish among 24 adolescents, representing twelve districts, for the amusement of a television audience. Only one person walks away victorious; 23 young people die in this strange ritual.

Liam Hemsworth from Hunger Games-325
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Lawrence proved her ability to carry a character’s heavy burden in Winter’s Bone. As Katniss Everdeen, a teenage girl who is both physically and morally strong, she has gravitas, rarely breaking into a smile, but reveals no sign of self-seriousness. Hutcherson’s Peeta Mellark isn’t as well defined: he’s had a secret crush on Katniss for years, and wound up in the Hunger Games by sheer misfortune. We can see in an instant that he lacks a killer instinct; he’s pure of heart. Hunky Liam Hemsworth has little to do in this installment of the saga, but I’m sure we’ll see more of him in parts two and three. Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz, as sympathetic “mentors” to our reluctant warrior-heroes, are the standouts in a capable supporting cast that includes Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland.

Director Gary Ross (working from a screenplay he co-wrote with author Collins and Billy Ray) is admirably discreet in depicting violence, as befits the film’s target audience and PG-13 rating. I’m less enthusiastic about his choice of frantic, blurred activity to put across his action scenes, and I’ll never understand why, like so many other films, this one relies so much on extreme ultra-closeups. Whatever happened to medium shots?

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It isn’t difficult to figure out where the story is headed most of the time; suspense is not this movie’s strongest suit. Given that, The Hunger Games feels long, and can’t fully justify filling more than two hours’ time. What’s more, the finale is weak, even within the constraints of a tale that is meant to be continued.

Unless I miss my guess, pre-sold fans should approve of this cinematic translation; readers will also have the benefit of having absorbed material that the screenplay was forced to leave out. I can’t feign any great enthusiasm for The Hunger Games, but it’s not bad, and gains a great deal from the presence of its sterling heroine, as played by Jennifer Lawrence. She alone makes it worth anticipating the next chapter in the story.

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  • Angela | September 21, 2012 12:15 PMReply

    I loved the hunger games books, and the movie actually gave them a fair amount of credit. I thought they did really good making the movie like the books, unlike the twlight series. Of course some things got left out, it had to be for times sack, but they managed to get all the crucial points across, and I can not wait to see the next movie.

  • William Conway | July 11, 2012 11:23 PMReply

    Based on the hate mail I have received - I have to reiterate one point - Maltin - this is your job!!!!! Reading a book is not something that most of us would find hard - ***hole...

  • William Conway | July 11, 2012 11:10 PMReply

    It seems to me that the refusal of a movie critic to read the source material is intellectual laziness at its best. I know I do not know how hard Leonard works but I know how hard I work for less money - so I do not buy the disclaimer - I did not read the novel but - screw you Maltin... how are we supposed to give any credence to anything you write if you are unwilling to dedicate 10 hours to the book?

  • Bill | July 11, 2012 11:08 PMReply

    It seems to me that the refusal of a movie critic to read the source material is intellectual laziness at its best. I know I do not know how hard Leonard works but I know how hard I work for less money - so I do not buy the disclaimer - I did not read the novel but - screw you Maltin... how are we supposed to give any credence to anything you write if you are unwilling to dedicate 10 hours to the book?

  • Lisa | April 10, 2012 11:59 PMReply

    All in all, not a bad adaptation of the book. I was expecting to not like Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss but I was pleasantly surpised. She won me over. The major criticism that I would have for this film is the missed opportunity for horror. Not the bloody, gory horror; we don't need that. But the details of the horror that society is capable of. The avox, the mutant dogs with the faces of the slain tributes, these things were downright freaky and chilling in the book and to leave them out was a shame.

  • Cat | April 1, 2012 9:51 PMReply

    My only real complaint was the rushed ending. The nightlock suicide scene and its ramifications are not remotely explored enough considering that this is the plot base for the next book. However, the movie was fast paced; the acting was outstanding and the casting almost perfect.

  • joy | March 26, 2012 1:54 PMReply

    The movie was a disappointment, it should have been cast better. The actors lack chemistry and relaionships amongst them are weak. The death of Rue, for example, should be one on the saddest and most heartfelt moments, but this does not come across in the movie. Read the book, skip the movie. I doubt any movie sequels will better. It feels like the movie was rushed to be made to become the next Twilight blockbuster. More time should have been spent casting and writing the screenplay so that the movie was not so boring.

  • Soomars | April 6, 2012 10:47 AM

    Overall, I'd agree that the movie was underwhelming. But I have to disagree with your comment on the scene involving the death of Rue. For the first half of the scene, I tended to agree with you. But in adding Katniss' gesture to the cameras and the ensuing reaction, I thought the scene became as powerful, if not more so, as the written version.

  • cat | April 1, 2012 9:59 PM

    I wish people would stop comparing this with Twilight. Hunger Games is in a league with 1984, Lord of the Flies and Enders Game. Twilight is more "Flowers in the Attic"

  • Arcane | March 31, 2012 3:14 AM

    Sorry, but I'm going to have to disagree with you. As a fan of the books pre-merchandising and movie production, I thought the adaptation was well done with what they had to work with. When Rue died? I cried my eyes out. As did quite of the few audience members in the theater I went to (wasn't even opening the weekend with all the fans!). The movie was good for visualizing a lot of what I read, and I was pleased with how it was all done. Sure it was rushed, but, there was so much to tell in that short 2 hours. Also, some emotion was lost-- but I think that's because the book is written in Katniss' point of view, and obviously, the movie is not. The movie lacks a Twilight vibe to me, although I will admit the way it's merchandised and advertised does give it that feel -- then again, money is money and that's what the kids love these days. Was the movie lacking in some parts? Sure. But I've seen worse, and I think it went well enough. Worth seeing, particularly after reading.

  • ufo | March 25, 2012 11:28 PMReply

    Bleak glimpse into a future where Obama's Progressive Euro-Socialism which though class warfare creates a ruling elitist class and the peasant workers who are dependent upon the Government for their scraps of existance and no hope to ever improve their lot in life. Instead of their promised economic utopia, Socialism creates a black hole that can never be escaped from which the workers who were promised an improved lifestyle and equality by the ruling elitist Maxist politicians, have instead enslaved them and their heirs forever in a society run by the Political ruling elitist class once they gain Political power.

  • Serg | April 10, 2012 10:24 PM

    UFO, a comment like yours can only be written by an idiot or by and ignorant. Which one of those you consider yourself?

  • cat | April 1, 2012 10:07 PM

    What the F... are you talking about. I suggest you educate yourself on proper usage of political terms. Socialism and Marxism are not the same thing. Also it is Marx (not Max) Idiot

  • Bill | March 28, 2012 9:40 PM

    Is there anything you right-wing freaks can't drag your hideous politics into?

  • cadavra | March 27, 2012 1:15 AM

    Except that (overlooking BATTLE ROYALE) this is based on a novel written when George W. Bush was President. Nice try!

  • Tony | March 25, 2012 9:03 AMReply

    I felt extremely cheated when I left the movie, having read all three books, the movie definitely did not live up to the books. While the casting was good, the producing sucked. Should have definitely been more violent. And why is this movie getting good reviews. The critics have to have been paid off.

  • Arcane | March 31, 2012 3:16 AM

    Had they done that, the rating would have gone up to R and they would have lost a lot of audience members. Keep in mind it is a young adult book, and that is the target audience. At the end of the day, it's about the money it puts out unfortunately. But hey -- at least they didn't totally disregard the book, slap it in our faces and come out with an irrelevant loose adaption.

  • briana | March 25, 2012 3:51 PM

    i totaly agree it was a down grade to the book i was really disapointed. :(

  • Penelope | March 25, 2012 9:27 AM

    I COMPLETELY agree

  • Michael | March 24, 2012 3:49 AMReply

    Leonard, having read the books-- where I felt cheated were the special effects. Given that this film trilogy stands poised to make a bazillion dollars, in an age of Harry Potter special effect sorcery, I left feeling unimpressed. The books provide a colorful pallet from which a director might draw. But instead of having the actors be pulled from the arena in a hovercraft like spaceship, the director fell back on the much abused adage of having the actors look up, then cut to some hovercraft in the air. Also the extensive use of shaky cameras allowed the effects team to really cheese out on incredible opportunities to wow the audience. Put in the hands of a JJ Abrams, James Cameron, or Peter Jackson, this series would have more teeth and would have engaged the viewer.

    That said, I heartily agree with your assessment on the acting. I bought all of the performances across the board, and was moved in the right moments. Please, amp it up for the sequels!

  • mike schlesinger | March 23, 2012 7:07 PMReply

    Not coincidentally, Anchor Bay released on DVD this week Kinji Fukasaku's BATTLE ROYALE, the ferocious Japanese thriller which THG so shamelessly rips off. Did they send you a review copy? I'd certainly be interested in your opinion of it.

  • cat | April 1, 2012 10:18 PM

    Agree - Battle Royale and Hunger Games are very different in scope. It is a cop out to suggest HG ripped off BR.

  • Arcane | March 31, 2012 3:18 AM

    As a loyal fan of BR and THG, I cannot express how badly I want to backhand you.

    They are similar. They are not the same. The only similarity being a survival game in which people kill and there is only one victory. Setting is different, circumstances are different, the game is different. THG is not ripping off BR.

  • TR | March 23, 2012 9:44 AMReply

    Can someone tell me how the violence plays out on screen compared to book? I read the book along with my 12-year old, but not sure, as a parent, to let him see movie.

    Thank you

  • EL | March 23, 2012 10:22 AM

    I took my 11 year old to see the movie last night as we also read it. The movie is actually way less violent than the book. The do not really show anything gruesome or extremely violent. The things we know happened in the book are either left out, played down or inferred rather than actually shown. I was nervous about the mutts as they scared my daughter in the book but they made them look like dogs and showed them only for a brief moment. Long story short, if they read the book the movie is nothing:)

  • Nick T. | March 23, 2012 3:33 AMReply

    Books are always better than the movies, that's usually a given. The question is, how much better? Sadly, this book was 50 times better than the movie, leaving us all with a very disappointing movie (but still a good movie; even 50 times worse is still good because the book was just that amazing.) Biggest problem? NO EMOTIONAL CONNECTION. Sign the director up for Psych 101 and teach him how to make the audience love the characters of the movie. The connections between Katniss and Rue and Peeta were weak. Jennifer Lawrence does a great job, but just missed a few points which could have been resolved with a simple retake of a shot. Josh Hutcherson doesn't make a very convincing romantic. His looks needed to be more confident and passionate. The one time I actually saw "Peeta" was when he said, "I'll take the bow.... I'm just kidding." and at his interview. The love was weak. A big problem I realized is that they shouldn't have shown Gale's reactions. When the audience was supposed to be lovin' the love, they were cringing at the awkwardness of Katniss almost "cheating" on Gale. There needed to be much more gruesome pain with the deaths and much stronger love to bust through all the gloom. That contrast would have made this movie euphoric. There was a lot to fit in and I don't know what I would take out in order to make more room for lovin'. It must have been very difficult to do all that they did and rise to such high expectations, so I applaud them for that.

    P.S. Haymitch wasn't drunk enough! Katniss was supposed to shout out for Peeta!

  • Thomas B. | March 23, 2012 3:07 AMReply

    As an avid read of the Hunger Games trilogy, I have to agree with this review 99%. This review perfectly describes how I felt about the movie. But unlike the last few sentences, I could not find too much wrong with the movie. The only thing I will admit is that it leaves non-readers in the dark on few accounts, but nothing major, and the story is easy to understand. Overall this is a good review and reflects my opinions of the movie pretty well. Thanks!

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