By Bob Garver
There are hits, there are blockbusters, and there are Event Movies. “The Hunger Games” is an Event Movie. It is such an Event Movie that it was playing on ten screens at midnight at my favorite theater and six were sold out when I bought my ticket at 8pm. It is such an Event Movie that numerous people went to the midnight shows in ridiculous costumes that wouldn’t even be visible in the dark theater. It is such an Event Movie that there was a news van parked outside the building and reporters were swarming to get audience reactions after the show was over. Sadly, the pandemonium was so much more fun and interesting than anything that happened during the film.
The film takes place in the future where America is a much more miserable place. Twelve impoverished Districts answer to a wealthy Capitol who squashed them all in an uprising seventy-four years ago. Every year the Capitol holds The Hunger Games, a televised competition of viciousness where two teenagers (called Tributes) from each district fight one another to the death until only one of the 24 is left alive. This is done to remind the Districts that the Capitol can take everything away from them whenever they choose. It’s also done to improve TV ratings.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself stuck in The Hunger Games after her sister is chosen by lottery to participate and she volunteers to take her place. She and fellow Tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are escorted by a chaperone (an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks) and a mentor (Woody Harrelson, quite recognizable despite a silly wig) to the Capitol where they’re given the star treatment for a few days. Then they’re put in the Hunger Games, where they’ll probably be killed. Except that this is the first film in a series, so we know they won’t be killed. As for the other Tributes, we just wait for them to become victims.
Most become victims without us even realizing it. The spectacle of bloody murder is a major plot point, both in eliminating other Tributes and in hammering home a point about the public’s demand for bloodsports. Yet the film just had to go for a PG-13 rating, and necessary scenes of violence are edited down to a whisper. There is an effective way to imply murder without showing it (remember, we never saw the knife touch Janet Leigh in “Psycho”), and this isn’t it. The way violence is glossed over in this movie is nothing short of cheating.
Another thing I’d change about the movie is that I’d like more scenes that focus on the production and the spectacle of The Hunger Games. The battlefield is controlled by a room of technicians led by a Gamemaker (Wes Bentley). I want to know what’s going through his head besides causing everybody a headache with his deadly special effects. There’s also a host and commentator (Stanley Tucci) who seems to exist for little reason other than to dole out occasional exposition with a sense of dutiful neutrality. The character would work so much better if he really showed some teeth, if he were sick and twisted behind the mask of the smarmy emcee. And while I have nothing against Stanley Tucci in the role, the film passes on a great opportunity to give me something I’ve wanted to see for nearly a decade now. Three words: Evil. Ryan. Seacrest.
It’s probably best that you ignore my negativity and go see “The Hunger Games”. An Event Movie like this comes along maybe once a year, if that. Like it or not, the film is going to go down as an icon of American pop culture, and I can’t advocate that you miss out on it. Just know that I wish it were a sharper, more organized icon of American pop culture.
Two Stars out of Five.