‘The Hunger Games’ Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated November 27th, 2014 at 3:08 pm,

the hunger games jennifer lawrence The Hunger Games Review

While The Hunger Games is not a non-stop fight-to-the-death action film, it succeeds at being something even more interesting.

Following the conclusion of the Harry Potter and Twilight book series, which wrapped-up in 2007 and 2008 respectively, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games became the next “big thing” for young adult fiction readers. However, much like the darker themes presented in the later Harry Potter installments, The Hunger Games explores some especially heavy material – making it a go-to book series for not just young adults, but plenty of readers who also enjoy deeper literary offerings. As a result, it’s no surprise that The Hunger Games film adaptation has, for some time, been one of the most anticipated movie events of 2012 – setting records for pre-release ticket sales and opening weekend sold-out shows.

That said, does writer/director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit and Pleasantville – not to mention writing credits on Big, Dave, and Mr. Baseball) ultimately deliver a Hunger Games film adaptation that accurately transports fan-favorite characters and events onto the big screen – as well as offering up an entertaining movie experience for audience members who haven’t bothered with the books?

Despite a few hiccups that come with distilling a 350 page book (told in first person) into a two hour and twenty minute film, The Hunger Games is not only a solid adaptation of the source material – it succeeds at covering a copious amount of backstory, while at the same time delivering some genuinely entertaining (and at times, thrilling) moments, even for those who are still unfamiliar with the book series. The Hungers Games books are jam-packed with supporting characters and in-depth mythos – and so is the film adaptation (at times to a fault).

The basic story takes place in a dystopian future where the Capitol rules over the country of Panem (in what used to be North America) – and uses “The Hunger Games” to suppress the surrounding districts. Each year, the Capitol randomly selects one girl and boy from each of the twelve districts to participate in the Hunger Games – where the 24 “tribute” children fight to the death until only one remains.

hunger games jennifer lawrence josh hutcherson The Hunger Games Review

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in ‘The Hunger Games’

When young Primrose Everdeen is chosen as tribute at the District 12 “reaping,” her big sister, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), volunteers to fight in her place. Katniss is joined by fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a strong but insecure baker’s son, and the two embark on a (one way?) trip to the Capitol to face off against the other district tributes (as well as one another). However, with guidance from District 12 resident (and previous Hunger Games winner) Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), and chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss and Peeta quickly discover that to survive the games they’ll need more than just fast feet and good aim.

The central storyline from the books remains intact for the film adaptation, as Katniss attempts to make sense of her situation – both in terms of attempting to survive the Hunger Games (inside and outside of the arena), as well as the difference between illustrious Capitol life and the stark poverty she experienced back home in District 12. Katniss requires a lot from Lawrence (both physically and emotionally) and, as usual, the actress delivers a good, nuanced performance. While the role isn’t likely to get her another “Best Actress” nomination at the Oscars, she does more with this genre piece than most of her peers might have attempted (just as she did with Mystique in X-Men: First Class).

There’s little doubt that some moviegoers will dismiss The Hunger Games as the next Twilight saga – in terms of the quality of the acting and production values. However, as we addressed in our article detailing “5 Facts About ‘The Hunger Games’ Movie for Those Who Haven’t Read the Books,” Ross actually lined up a lot of top-tier acting talent (up-and-comers as well as Hollywood veterans) to ground the horrific events depicted in The Hunger Games with believable (and meaningful) performances. Hutcherson (as fellow tribute Peeta) also succeeds in keeping up with Lawrence – presenting one of the more interesting characters in the film (even with a pink-haired Elizabeth Banks and drunk Woody Harrelson running around); Hutcherson also delivers during a pair of especially contemplative moments.

Peeta Mellark in The Hunger Games 570x379 The Hunger Games Review

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark in ‘The Hunger Games’

Unfortunately, even Peeta isn’t safe from the book-to-film adaptation process – as  many side characters are left entirely undeveloped or presented with somewhat muddled motivations. The scope of the film leaves some character actions and motivations a bit vague, which will cause non-fans to leave the theater with a mixed impression of who they are.  In the case of Peeta, despite a full character arc that works on the surface level, his in-arena motivations aren’t nearly as cohesive (or as interesting) as they are in the source material. In addition, the “Mockingjay,” which has major thematic importance (not to mention practical application) in the book series goes almost entirely undeveloped in the film, and despite a lot of onscreen time that’s spent on the subject, doesn’t ever come full-circle. These aren’t just “adaptation” nitpicks, in terms of what is shown on screen – the film leaves plotholes that could be confusing for general audiences (given the time that was spent setting them up).

Similarly, with one or two exceptions, the non-District 12 tributes are mostly just blank caricatures that leave next-to-no emotional impact as either victims or villains. Obviously, with 24 tributes, not to mention a number of non-Games side characters, it would be hard to get to know everyone (a lot of the kids are throwaways in the book); however, as a film (as opposed to a book – where Katniss is limited to first person), the experience could have benefited from a bit more time spent with a few other tributes – so that as they attempt to slaughter (or help) Katniss, they’d have more impact than just the immediate onscreen action. It’s a tricky balance, and though the director succeeds overall, there are times when The Hunger Games seems more concerned with building up the larger world in preparation for a sequel, than fully serving some of the moments and characters featured in the current installment. That said, Ross does succeed in utilizing the film medium for the better, such as when he makes up for the lack of Katniss’ internal thoughts by smartly implementing external sources for much needed exposition (via the game announcers and production team).

The Hunger Games District Tributes  The Hunger Games Review

District 1 and 2 Tributes: Clove, Cato, Marvel, and Glimmer

It needs to be said that some moviegoers – those expecting an epic action movie experience – may also find that the film drags (especially in Act 2), given the lengthy run time. Anyone interested in the series mythos will be sated by seeing book characters re-imagined on the big screen, but prior to the actual Hunger Games, there are very few (read: zero) large-scale action pieces to break up all the world-building and exposition. Patient moviegoers will enjoy plenty of intriguing character drama, but there’s no doubt that the film (like the books) relies heavily on the back end to hit its action quota. Ultimately, action fans may still be underwhelmed by the actual Games themselves.

Quick, frantic cuts probably helped the film maintain a PG-13 rating, given all the teenagers that die on camera, but as a result, the film is short on captivating battle choreography or epic one-on-one confrontations. Instead of large-scale action set pieces, The Hunger Games movie presents a story about Katniss surviving (and often hiding) – not outright hunting down her fellow tributes – and because of that, the Games portion (despite loads of tense moments) could prove to be underwhelming. In the end, the film is better off for the restraint that Ross employs – since it keeps the focus on Katniss and her plight (not over-the-top CGI explosions) – but it will limit the entertainment value of the onscreen action for some moviegoers.

As the first installment in what will be a four-part film series (based on a three-part book series), Ross has done a solid job establishing the series’ major players, as well as the ins and outs of Panem society. Ultimately the director crams a lot of quality content into the film’s two-hour twenty-minute runtime – though some plot threads, scenes, and characters are underserved by the movie’s conclusion. While The Hunger Games is not a non-stop fight-to-the-death action film, it succeeds at being something even more interesting – a fascinating and disturbing (not to mention tense) character drama that successfully captures the core themes of the book.

If you’re still on the fence about The Hunger Games, check out the trailer below:


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For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out our Hunger Games episode of the SR Underground podcast.

If you want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Hunger Games Spoiler Discussion!

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick - and let us know what you thought of the film below.

The Hunger Games is rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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  1. I saw this movie after reading the first book which I loved. A week has passed and I still can’t understand why the director chose to shoot the movie as blurred and choppy pieces. They offer up a feast for the eyes over and over again, but never show it. There are about 30 extreme close ups of Katniss’s ear and a black glove on a doorknob, etc., but I wanted to actually SEE the film. It was blurry and dizzying. Such a disappointment. I wanted to chuck my popcorn at the screen.

  2. I agree! I just seen this movie and it was slashed!!!!!!! Omg I can’t believe this would happen. They spent more time talking about things that don’t even mater than the stuff that should matter. I read all 3 books and I believe twilight as a book series and a movie series was way better. I’m so pisst I paid to see that crap called a movie, I will not be seeing the other ones.

    • I have not read the book but my sister had and we went to see THG last night and both looked at each other mid way through the movie and said what the heck is this. The movie plot was slow and lagged on with these flamboyant circus like characters. I sleep through a portion and woke up when the battle started. My sister was disappointed and I was bored of my mind. They show adapt for TV. Not worth movie dollars.

    • Ok calm down… The hunger games was a really good movie and it was meant to be blurry. It ads a bit of suspense and temptations when they talk about stuff that doesn’t have to do with the hunger games. And just saying, the hunger games set a world record for the number of sales it made and I doubt that you could shoot a better movie.

    • Honey, it’s because you read the book first and then saw the movie that’s way you didn’t like it. But it you saw the movie for the first time (instead of reading the book first) you would see the movie is f****** awesome, and so is the book. The director made the movie amazing, okay. Don’t this as me being rude, because i don’t mean to but i love the movie and i find it piss taking that you are trashing it.

  3. I can tell bad reviews are mostly coming from people who have read the books. I didn’t and I loved the film, but I also realized that the Katniss – Rue relationship in the book must have been much more intense for making the scene so dramatic. I think it did a good job depicting this on an emotional level, and I absolutely loved Jennifer Lawrence’s acting. This was one of the better movies I have seen in the theater for a while, and I visit the theater a lot. I think it must have grasped the essence of the book fairly well, as I do not feel compelled to read the book because of unanswered questions. If I read the book it will be because it would be like the better, more in-depth version of the story, but that is always what books are compared to films.

    • thank you so much! You are amazing

  4. I saw the movie last night and I did read the book before seeing it. I think I would have been lost had I not read the book. The movie was not that good and i had to explain everything to my husband because he barely understood what was going on the entire time. Movie sucked, book was great.

  5. battle royale . . . . . . . . . . its no hunger games . . . . . nah just joking screw hunger games BATTLE ROYALE!!

    • LOL!!! Another manga fan. Battle Royale was great! It was very hard not thinking of Battle Royale throughout the whole movie. Except the manga is more dramatic and you see a lot more blood in it. I loved that one!

  6. Crap movie – I wanted more than a couple narrator sentences to explain how society could get to the point of having these games.

    That’s the interesting thing to me. The rest of this movie was dull at best – ‘running man’ on a larger scale without the action.

    Don’t bother waking me for the other films.

  7. Spoiler alert. My husband and I saw The Hunger Games yesterday…we both read the book. Interestingly, he loved it and gave it a 3? I nearly hated it and gave it a 2. My comment to him was that it dragged on and on, while at the same time it was really rushed. What I meant by that was that the story and character development were quick and lacking, while nothing exciting (subtly or otherwise) was happening to hold my attention. Case in point, when Rue died, I wasn’t the least bit affected because there was no development with the relationship between her and Katniss. Other things to consider…

    1) Where were the hovercrafts to remove the dead bodies?
    2) Did they ever use Effie Trinkett’s name in the movie?
    3) Was anyone creeped out with the relationship between Cinna and Katniss? It seemed totally sexual on his end…not at all how I pictured him in the book. I actually interpreted his character as homosexual in the book. He seemed more like an untrustworthy child-molestor in the movie.
    4) I laughed out loud at the chariot entrance in the movie. Those costumes were ridiculous and underwhelming. In the book, they were breathtaking.
    5) The Muttations in the movie were nothing more than CGI Capitol-created beasts. I was looking forward to seeing how they were going to create them to look like genetic mutations of the dead victims and really play out the end where Cato is tortured to death all night…and, alas, it was a let down.

    The best thing about this movie was Stanley Tucci…brilliant interpretation and exactly how I pictured his character in the book. Otherwise…a total let-down.

    • First of all. I loved the movie and go against the let bit, and disagree with all the points but one – no.3. From his end he seemed like he was help Katniss so he could help him self after. It was gross at first but watching the second time, it didn’t seem as weird – not sure why though.

  8. This was the worse movie I have ever seen. There was no rhyme or reason for this movie. The actors were all mechanical and what parent would let their government slaughter their kids for sport – this would cause an uprising in itself. Skip the movie. It is awful plain and simple. I wrote on Gary Ross Facebook page three paragraphs on why this movie was terrible and what he has to do if he makes the last two books into a movie.

    To me this movie was all about special effects and any critic who liked the movie must have stock in the movie because otherwise they would have wrote that this movie sucked big time.

    • maby it just that you dont like the idea of the movie in the first place

  9. I loved the hunger games! I thought it was exseptional, the book being better but still a thrilling Movie! Loved Katniss (PEETA TOOO)but especially thought the casting was rigth on! I recemmend to see this astonishing book and learn more about the trilodgy! I LOVE THE HGs!

  10. i’m just a fourteen year old girl who happenly become a fan of the hunger games. before seeing the movie/before knowing that there was a movie, i have read the trilogy a couple of times, and when i was informed by my cousin that there will be a movie, i was thrilled and i can’t wait to watch it’s trailer. and so, i watched the trailer and boom! it was a blast. the trailer was so awesome that i expect the movie would be very detailed like what was on the book. and yeah, i watched the movie, and the intro was great but the first question that runs through my mind while the movie continues is, where is madge undersee? she was suppose to be the one who will give katniss the mockingjay pin, right? i mean, madge is an important character too, so, we must all take notice of thet,,,
    but most importantly, the movie was great, it kinda bit in a rush.. but people.. you’ve got to admit that suzzane collins is a great author/writer for creating a story that is awsome and breathtaking…

    • Actually, the author is as much to blame as the director: she helped him write the script. If the movie was bad, it’s half her fault. Pretty sad actually.

  11. i think this was a very good movie but i have to agree with some people you really need to read the book first. my dad was lost a lot in the movie because he did not read the book first and then ended up saying he hated it because it was sadistic and evil. i think it was a great movie though.

  12. Read the book before watching the movie. It just doesn’t compare to the book. The movie spent more time on before and after the games where as the book spent more time on the details of the games. The movie could not capture the caracters as well as I was expecting. Total waste of time and money. Very disappointed.

    • Well, you and those others who did not like the film are certainly well within your rights, of course (for my part, I loved the film and thought it captured the novel’s essence and the characters quite well). My question is this: Are you surprised that the novel is better than the film? Isn’t that almost always the case? In fact, isn’t it almost EXPECTED?


      • I watched the movie before reading the books, and it was hard to follow the characters at times but they showed the events well and had lovely scenes. I think the movie is a great compliment to the books in the fact they had Snow, Haymitch, and Crane had great scenes and added an angle outside of Katniss’s POV that the books focused on. Snow’s “hope” and then his “underdog” speeches gave the characters and scope some extra power and they were starting to be afraid of the way Katniss and Peeta had to the audience as well as explaining the games themselves. Haymitch’s “young love” speech to Crane after the riot helped to change the direction of the games.

        Most of all, the best scenes of the movie was Rue’s memorial and the riot in District 11 afterwards. That was my favorite part of the movie and was executed greatly with Katniss giving the tribute sign then the District 11 giving the sign in reply then going on a rampage. I think they showed that riot scene beautifully and was better than the way it was described in Catching Fire, in my opinion.

        My only issue with the film is how Peeta was handled, which could have been expanded a few more mins. Would have been nice for a few more Peeta scenes in the cave and perhaps a glimpse of him fighting off Cato to help Katniss get free. They could have done the hovercraft scene towards the end better, but the movie was a solid adaptation overall.

  13. I read all three books and really wanted to like the movie, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed. I would have liked to have seen more accuracy when it came to the end scene of the actually games. Specifically, the terror of waiting on the cornucopia while the muttations were below and Cato’s end. Also, Peeta’s leg did not heal in the cave, he was half-dead at the end of the games and wound up losing his leg. This fact led to Peeta and Katniss’ separation once in the catacombs after their victory. I would have liked to have seen Katniss’ desperation to know if he still alive, etc.

    It was bizarre why the movie-makers left out some of the stuff they did, it would have made for a better movie. Oh well, I’m still excited for the release of Catching Fire.

  14. BORING………………….

    • …and yet you’re here. What does that say about you?

      • yes….i dunno)))

  15. WHY DO PEOPLE THINK ITS ENTERTAINING TO WATCH 13 YEAR OLDS KILL EACH OTHER? THE one scene in the beggining of the fight, when the boy hides in the shed. they literaly show another guy come up and beat the poor soul to death with a sword or something. you see the kids hands flail up as if crying for mercy. THERE IS NONE! Sick movie. Sick book. And people wonder why theres so much violence in the world. this right here is a great example of why.

  16. I found the hunger games fantastic i must have watched it over and over again i am a big fan i have 7 hunger games books and i cant wait till catching fire and mockingjay

  17. Seeing the “Hunger Games” gain so much recognition is difficult to fathom; especially when it’s more or less a blatant copy of “Battle Royale”, a Japanese novel (1996), movie (2000), and manga (2000-2005). I’ve read the entire series of “Hunger Games” (2008), and not only is the writing style bland, but the plot is exceedingly unoriginal and not ‘unique’ like many of you are claiming it to be. Like the “Battle Royale” manga, “Hunger Games” includes love triangles, a group of teenagers randomly chosen (BR: by class HG: by district), plans to overthrow authority, teens given weapons and forced into a death match, a pair working together to undermine the game with the help of an older mentor who had previously won the game, both female and male main leads, a corrupted government, signal fires and bird calls, a reality TV show program (which IS in the English adaption of the manga (2006) for the series unlike many of you have known), and the list goes on and on. Evidence of these unconcealed similarities can be found on various Internet articles (whose writers I sincerely thank). I urge you to go right now and read the manga or novel of Battle Royale online so that you can compare the two series. The author of “Hunger Games” blatantly claimed (*cough* lied *cough) that she supposedly never even knew of “Battle Royale”, so you can’t use ‘inspiration’ as an excuse anymore. Instead, she blurted out nonsense about Roman mythology and the Iraq war since she doesn’t want to admit her source of inspiration is a contemporary. How convenient for her own success since “Battle Royale” is a Japanese series that isn’t well known in North America. She basically made an American-version of the series that contains less gruesome content and involves districts in place of school classes. Even if she truly did not know about “Battle Royale” or mysteriously forgot about it in the back of her mind, it is still part of an author’s job to confirm the originality of his or her own to-be published works through researching. I’m posting this all of over the web so that “Battle Royale” can at least receive some acknowledgment that the “Hunger Games” author denied. Sure enough, both series also share resemblances with “The Lord of the Flies” and “The Running Man”. However, unlike the HR author, the BR author has not denied this inspiration. Moreover, the “Hunger Games” is more like a rip-off of “Battle Royale” than an inspiration since the majority of the plot elements are nearly identical. There’s a fine line between the words ‘inspiration’ and ‘copy’, and “Hunger Games” has extended far past it. There are also many popular American series that were inspired by Japanese series such as “The Matrix” from “Ghost in the Shell”, however they rightfully gave credit for the ‘original’ series… unlike a certain someone. I sincerely apologize if I seem rash with my word choice, but it’s so aggravating that Suzanne Collins had dare stated that she wasn’t inspired by “Battle Royale” when she clearly was. What’s more contemptible is that she’s getting not only famous from her rip-off, but she’s also obtaining vast amounts of money from it. But hey, that’s how reality works, right? Therefore, I don’t care if this is marked as spam or hauled with negative comments from “Hunger Game” fanatics. As long as it reveals to some people the credit “Battle Royale” genuinely deserves, then I’m satisfied.

    • Gosh. Golly gee-whiz. You’re just a regular hero, aren’t you?

      You go, girl.


  18. If you’ve read the book then AVOID it WILL dissapoint! But as a stand alone movie it’s ok…