The Hunger Games

“Voyeurism” is a word that I heard a lot in film school.  Because a screen is window shaped it seems that all film fans are voyeurs.  We like to spy on other people.  It’s an obvious point, if you think about it, as well as an example of the academic penchant to over-analyze every damn thing.  A key component of all storytelling and drama is the desire to watch other people in their most intimate moments.  And there is a tradition, especially in science fiction, of setting stories in worlds where the most prurient aspects of this desire is considered acceptable and even catered to.  Think of Stephen King’s The Running Man, which was made into an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, or that Star Trek episode about the Roman Empire surviving into the sixties and televising their gladiatorial games.  There are many other examples.

The Hunger Games falls squarely into this tradition.  In a post-apocalyptic future, the North American continent is divided into several sectors, which are dominated by a prosperous sector called the Capitol.  Every year the Capitol takes a boy and a girl from each of the sectors and puts them into a televised gladiatorial contest where they must fight all the others to the death.  Only one can be left standing at the end of it and that person and his or her family will be taken care of for the rest of their lives.

Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, is from Sector 12, roughly Appalachia, which is one of the poorest of the struggling sectors.  Her family is poorer than most.  So much so that she feeds them by hunting with her bow and arrow, skills which come in handy in the arena.  She volunteers to go to the games in place of her sister who was drafted at the reaping which is where they choose the contestants.  The male from Sector 12 is Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson, and he admits to the TV audience to having a crush on Katniss.  This gets both of them sympathy from the home audience, which is important because the audience is allowed to give the contestants, called tributes, gifts to help them survive and even win.

Plot wise, as I pointed out above, this is not terribly original.  And the voyeurism theme is pretty hackneyed as well.  They do throw in an Occupy theme of the struggling outer sectors vs. the opulent and decadent Capitol.  The Hunger Games is a pretty good treatment of these themes.  I only have a few gripes which I’ll get to later.  Jennifer Lawrence is perfect as our smart and resourceful heroine.  She portrays a girl who is at first unsure in the strange new world in which she finds herself but who gradually finds her footing.  As a whole the film is well cast and directed.

Some of the technical elements bothered me, however.  The editing is very choppy.  In the beginning of the film, when we’re being introduced to this world, we’re constantly distracted by this.  Every shot is a beat too short and you can’t focus on any of the images.  Combine this with the handheld camerawork and it is very disorienting.    Also the shots are too tight, often encompassing only part of someone’s face.  Later on in the fight scenes it becomes confusing because you can’t tell what’s happening.

I also felt that they missed a dramatic opportunity with the arrows.  When Katniss eventually gets hold of a bow and arrow, she never seemed to worry about conserving her ammo.  We never see her retrieving them when she can, taking risks to do so.  I couldn’t count the number of arrows in her quiver because of the editing but it always seemed to be full.  This isn’t critical of course, but it seems like something that would have added to the realism and even helped characterize Katniss.

But those are small flaws.  In general, The Hunger Games is a better than average movie and makes for good viewing.

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