Hollywood hasn’t been approaching adaptations of literary mediums with enough gusto over the past few years, Mr. Potter excluded, and it shows. It seems as if every studio strives to turn a particular franchise into the next big thing, only to flop come opening weekend as disappointing numbers at the box office ultimately fail to recoup the presumably monumental budget invested into the project in question. As one of the more widely discussed and anticipated forays into this territory, Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” has undeniably been the talk of the town. Greeted in the past few days with an abundance of critical praise, I can’t quite grasp just why the film adaptation of Collins’ bestselling novel is as widely lauded as it very clearly is. While technically proficient in more ways than one, it’s relatively safe to say that The Hunger Games feels a bit derivative in relation to its cinematic precursors and emotionally vapid despite the obviously distressing nature of the annual event itself.
Granted, it’s an exceptionally well-realized vision of its roots, coupling a stunning presentation of Collins’ diverse futuristic dystopian locales with some appealingly zany costume design and gaudy, grandiose set pieces. What The Hunger Games possesses though in terms of apparent visual panache, camerawork and appropriately choppy editing included, it lacks in terms of the emotional wallop that should coincide with the innumerable deaths of the young contestants participating in the games themselves. There are several moments that ring exceptionally distressing as the event gets underway, however the film as a whole feels so steeped in its self-obsessed literary origins that only fans of the source material will be able to establish a deeper emotional connection with the central characters.
To its credit, the depiction of the pre-press and excessive pageantry that exists prior to the start of the event is agreeably engaging, as are Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta’s (Josh Hutcherson) interactions with their respective mentor, former champion Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) in an obvious effort to learn the tricks of the trade in order to stay alive to the very end. Derivative as the competition itself seems in relation to what many have compared it to, 2000’s Battle Royale, there are some recognizable elements that the two films share yet The Hunger Games seems much more interested in outlining the plight of this world’s inhabitants, moreover the “Tributes” chosen from each of its twelve districts to participate in the event itself in relation to the reasoning behind its inception.
As the games themselves get underway, director Ross’ deft portrayal of the blood-drenched proceedings sidesteps any and all gratuitousness while remaining just graphic enough to appeal to those looking for a bloodbath. The situations Katniss finds herself in are almost embarrassingly forseeable, each predicament remaining reminiscent of an odd mash-up between the previously referenced Battle Royale and The Truman Show. The creativity that exists within Collins’ world, while present, is relatively sparse outside of the introduction of a few indigenous species of fauna and the uniqueness of the battleground itself. Alliances are predictably formed and eventually broken as the archetypal macho man/egomaniac strives to rally against and brutally murder just about everyone to “bring pride to his district,” and although it’s easy enough to cheer for Katniss on account of her leading lady mantra, the action itself peters off too often as the film wallows in brief instances of more emotionally driven happenings that ultimately left me feeling cold.
Across the board, the performances on display are exceptionally noteworthy and carry the film as such when it begins to drag. Lawrence, as to be expected, exudes an appreciable amount of charisma and gusto as the titular Ms. Everdeen, embodying the character’s well-intentioned, mildly resourceful and admirably self-sacrificial persona with the finesse we’d expect of the up-and-coming former Oscar nominee. Elizabeth Banks as eccentric emcee Effie Trinket and Harrelson as the hard-drinking yet infinitely insightful Haymitch are a genuine delight as well, as is Josh Hutcherson in another surprising turn following 2010’s The Kids Are All Right. Their efforts, that of the young Hunger Games contestants especially, ensure that the bulk of the proceedings remain at least somewhat hard-hitting as each character inevitably succumbs to their own gruesome fates.
Graphic while avoiding excess and surprisingly proficient in several technical aspects, Gary Ross’ adaptation of The Hunger Games ultimately falls flat where it counts the most: its discernible emotional underbelly. While fans of the novels themselves will easily identify with the characters and sympathize with their ongoing plight, the uninitiated with have a hard time sharing similar sentiments as the going gets rough. Stunningly realized as Collins’ fictional world may be both conceptually and visually, the film flounders in several respects that’d otherwise make it a well above average literary adaptation worthy of much praise. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed a good chunk of what the film had to offer, especially the efforts of Lawrence and her peers, however I failed to harbor a connection with a bulk of the relentlessly grim goings-on that’d otherwise cause me to revere it endlessly. This in mind, it’s a genuine treat for fans, indeed, but The Hunger Games simply wasn’t entirely my cup of tea despite all it has going for it.