Do we want to watch teenagers kill each other? 2012's The Hunger Games says, "Yes, especially their heads," as this dystopian Sci-Fi film with excessive close-ups and badly edited action scenes pits randomly picked teens against one another in deadly combat for television. Featuring the passive protagonists common to American teen fiction, the film is entertaining and sometimes adorable.
Many people have pointed to forebears, other stories in film, literature, and television that have employed this basic concept, most often the novel Battle Royale and its film adaptation. Personally, I always like to point to the 1985 Doctor Who serial Vengeance on Varos and wonder why no-one else does except maybe Doctor Who fans don't want to encourage anyone to watch anything from the Colin Baker era. But originality is overrated--almost all stories can be traced to something else that did something similar first. The Hunger Games may be the first to bring this kind of story to lightweight teen fiction, though, its gentler focus on boys and girls cautiously admitting they might like to hug at some point before having responsible sexual intercourse certainly distinguishes it from Battle Royale which didn't seem to have a particular target audience beyond young adults and up.
It's a bit jarring going from seeing Jennifer Lawrence fighting tooth and nail for her life and her family in 2010's Winter's Bone to seeing her generally react by just looking shocked to the details of her impending death match. I think the two most assertive moments she has in the film both involve her shooting at apples. But considering her skills with hunting and using a bow would seemingly make her the best suited to win when she and the other teenagers are set in their demarcated bit of wilderness, she seems to spend a lot of time getting knocked out, getting ambushed, and succumbing to freak accidents.
Most of which happen somewhere outside the frame dominated by REALLY BIG FACES. They should have called this movie The Hunger Heads.
Almost an hour is spent before the teens do get to their arena. This first hour could've been edited down a lot, the reiterations that this is showbiz and the kids need to train for fighting isn't nearly as interesting as when they finally get to it. The most effective tension in the film comes with the introduction of the adorable Rue (Amandla Stenberg) who becomes an ally to Katniss.
Somehow I was worried a lot more for her than for Katniss' kid sister at the beginning of the film. Maybe it's just that Stenberg, as an actress, is able to do a lot more with facial expressions.
Every action scene is a blurry mess. This is a trend that's started going away over the past few years. I can't blame The Hunger Games for it--even Batman Begins was guilty of it. I can understand the thinking--the middle of battle is a chaotic place where it's hard to tell what's happening, perception overwhelmed by amorphous, vigorous movement that conveniently conceals how cheap the choreography is and how poorly trained and rehearsed the actors are. Say what you want about the Star Wars prequels, but I greatly appreciated Ewan McGregor and Hayden Christenson training like hell so those sabre duels could be impressive at full frame. At least now action movies are generally cutting corners by using cgi versions of the actors instead of doing the kind of washing machine theatre we get in The Hunger Games.