Dear The Hunger Games,
Somewhere at the heart of you lies a story that I could invest in, care about, and ultimately engage with and recommend. Somewhere inside of your tale of mortal combat and government oppression and voyeuristic culture is a vision and a narrative that I want to see. Unfortunately, I can’t say that you exploit or execute any of the elements that I would have wanted to explore, nor do I feel you even do a suitable job at telling the story you decided upon. While this doesn’t completely decimate my recommendation, it does dampen it considerably.
I will preface my remarks, however, by saying that your faults might not be entirely your own. In translating a young adult novel to the big screen, a number of factors precluded you from reaching your full potential – time, rating, and the general short comings of turning any written work into a visual art. All things considered you’re a vaguely entertaining and interesting story, that I would not actively advise people to avoid.
Still, the flaws exist.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is the rock of her family, the provider and head of the household. Since the death of her father she has hunted for food, sold her quarry for money, and generally kept her mother and sister together. She lives in a post-apocalyptic society, where the North American continent is divided into twelve Districts headed by a decadent Capitol. Every year the Hunger Games occur, where twenty-four Tributes – twelve boys and twelve girls – must fight to the death for the amusement of the masses. When her sister is selected for the Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place, and is thrust into a whirlwind that she can barely comprehend.
The intricacies of the games, and their place in the world, are established shallowly, and without much time for real examination. It is said the games are staged to remind people of an uprising that occurred before, to subjugate the Districts and yet give them hope through the crowning of a single champion – but the way that single champion gives hope to the masses is never addressed, and the need for hope in general is never defined in a satisfying way.
Further more, the Games themselves are set up in terms of rules and structure, but the way in which the games affect the contestants is never brought to the fore in a meaningful way. Katniss and her District companion seem confused by their sudden separation from their homeland and their new surroundings, but their fear of death or pain is never explored. Do they simply not care, or is there no room in your script for it? This doesn’t matter so much in the training scenes leading up to the Games, but later on it colors everything that occurs.
Of course you have to get to the Games first, and therein lies another problem. In the most basic sense, you feel like two movies stitched together. At two hours and twenty minutes long, you create an immense space between the scenes at home, and the eventual beginning of the Games. During the time in the Capitol there is very little to remind us that these characters actually came from somewhere else, a problem that is not helped in any way by the immense difference in setting between the bucolic District and the tech-heavy Capitol. This discord and the immense amount of time alienate us from the point of origin, diffusing the characters’ stories.
Sadly, once the Games begin another problem kicks in. With twenty-four Tributes to follow the time spent cultivating each character is minimal. So when wholesale slaughter sets in and we begin to see people drop, there’s nothing in it for us as an audience. We can barely remember these character’s names, let alone who they are beyond a sex and a hair color. This, along with the manner in which you cut around the more violent aspects of your tale to achieve a PG-13 rating, means that none of the violence that takes place holds the proper dramatic weight.
This lack of dramatic importance as a result of a lack of character definition is not confined merely to your violent moments, either. The romance that emerges and the steps on the road to the Games are all deadened by the lack of any real sense of who these people are. The actors all execute their roles well, it’s just that the writing doesn’t support them beyond their most basic traits. There is no propulsion to your characters actions, no sense of forward motion. We have clocks to count us down to events, and a body count to track to an inevitable end, but no strong sense of person to lead us on. Everything becomes episodic and takes on a sense of perfunctory obligation.
With more care taken in fleshing out your world, maybe some of this would have been easier to accept. As it stands, though, a number of events and gestures go unexplained, and therefore lack proper context and meaning. Adding this nebulous worldwide ecology to already hollow characters only adds to the sense of inconsequentiality in your story, which should have been weighted much better. The odd choice of shaky-cam work during more emotional or action-oriented moments without the proper editing to make the scenes flow also adds to this sense of ungrounded, disconnected, uninvested disorientation.
I feel as though, if more care or skill had been applied to the act of adapting you – to getting your characters just right, to more deftly evoking your setting, to better modulating your pace, and maybe more cohesive and impactful direction – you might have been something special. As I said, there is a narrative core to you that is strong and compelling. Too bad, then, that this glimmer of promise was not nurtured beyond what it took to crank out a serviceable and yet ultimately lifeless tale.
Sorry you couldn’t beat the odds,
Brian J. Roan