While not exactly The Movie of 2012 from my point of view (that slot, of course, belongs to Prometheus), The Hunger Games is actually a lot better than most folks have been giving it credit for being — but not without a number of setbacks.
Sure, the concept isn’t exactly original (see Battle Royale, Logan’s Run, The Running Man, et al), and sure, the premise isn’t exactly palatable outside some seriously tongue-in-cheek satire, The Hunger Games is in effect — while not “hard sci-fi” by any means — “reasonably firm sci-fi” for the younger generation. A kind of “Judy Blume does Theodore Sturgeon”, if you will.
As Katniss Everdeen, the film’s emotional core, Jennifer Lawrence is wonderful. While mostly stuffed into the tough-girl stereotype, her performance manages to subtly color the character with fear, weakness and a kind of nausea as the storm of celebrity swirls around her. She shows a maturity as an actress that could have easily been lost with another choice. Likewise, Woody Harrelson was perfectly cast as Katniss and Peeta’s drunken misanthropic mentor Haymitch. Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz and Stanley Tucci also stand out — the latter if anything, for his purple hair and massive teeth. Again, if only more of a satirical hand had been taken with the film, it would’ve been so much better.
Further into the negative department, the film is not without its contrivances — especially when it comes to Katniss’ narrow escapes from most difficulties and the Star Trek: The Next Generation holodeck logic taken the extreme. If the film had been more about genuine struggle against logical opposition it would’ve been darker and maybe less interesting, but an overall solid story. Disregarding the above-mentioned premise, of course.
I also didn’t care for the lack of design when it came to Katniss’ home District 12. Why in a far-flung future supposedly divorced from our culture by some cataclysm would District 12 look just like rural Kentucky is honestly beyond me. I know the Capitol City is supposed to be all glittery and different, but some amount of thought should’ve gone into the world as a whole, as far as production design was concerned. I’m hoping this was a possible budget concern, and that the other films don’t feature a similar creative bankruptcy.
What we’re left with is a close-knit story of one girl’s rise to celebrity from paltry beginnings, and the relationships she has, either by choice or by resolution. As this alone, The Hunger Games shines, and is even enough to want for a sequel. But it could’ve been a lot more.