I have to keep reminding myself that I am not part of the target market for this story. That’s not to say that the Hunger Games isn’t a decent movie. It is a very well filmed, acted and directed movie. The visuals are very good, the cinematography is decent even through the shaky work during action scenes to hide flaws in the choreography. Given the quality of the writing, even the acting is good all the way around. This is especially true of Woody Harrelson and surprisingly true for Lenny Kravitz (for a musician, it wasn’t bad). And once the games get going, the film gets pretty emotional and quite gritty and real. This is especially true of the scene when they first start at the cornucopia. I won’t give it away but I actually got the same odd feeling of shock and almost despair as when I saw the Passion of the Christ or the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. It hits that hard. (And then gets derailed by convenient twists. But I’ll get to that.)
The problem is that, even if you go all out and make a technically good movie, it will always be brought to a certain level – high or low - due to the source material. The story in the Hunger Games just isn’t very good. With post-apocalyptic and movies set in the future you are only as good as the imagination of the writer. And, in this movie, there just seemed to be no real unique or creative thought. The whole thing is an allegory for the devolution of man into a state of depravity and desensitization. This is a theme we have seen many times through movies like Blade Runner and Death Race. It is a theme that is not likely to go away and I think I can live with that because they can be interesting to watch. However, the Hunger Games uses this to basically retell the history of the Roman Empire. This is pretty obvious through the use of Roman names and a capitol city that governs and exploits provinces for their resources. The provinces (districts in the Hunger Games) have varying levels of development and wealth and are raided regularly by the capitol for their brutal gladiatorial games.
The only real deviation from that is that the capitol is a utopia of wealth for those who live there. In the actual empire, Rome was a cesspool of filth, poverty and constant danger that was worse to live in than most provinces. Normally, this would be OK because you need to take some artistic license and make a story your own. But the way it was done was just more irritating than anything else. The entire city of the capitol looked less like a utopian paradise and more like Wonderland threw up on the Fifth Element. Rather than being a treat to watch, you get distracted by seeing what idiotic costume they’ll come up with in the next shot. That isn’t the only thing wrong with the story though. The plot takes way too long to get going and dwells way too much on the buildup to the actual games. The games start after the halfway point and by then I was getting kind of bored. I will say though that, once the games get started, it picks up again and moves quicker. But it still follows flawed writing and uninspired storytelling. Plot development during the games is way too convenient and contrived. This is indicative of the source material being a teen romance novel rather than more in depth literature.
So I have to base my recommendation on whether or not the film making outshines the lack of depth and originality in the story. Ultimately, it doesn’t. It isn’t a horrible movie but there’s a lot of eye rolling at the cheesiness of the plot. Combine that with the slow pace and it just doesn’t seem worth it. Don’t see it. Well, maybe once to see what all the hype is about. But I cannot see ever recommending a second viewing.