The following review is spoiler free and is meant to be read BEFORE seeing the movie.
Post-apocalyptic fiction can be too serious for its own good and much of it seems superfluous. Most of it is just more of the same. The Hunger Games is one that feels a bit fresh, even if some individual elements (children fighting to the death, authoritarian government, etc.) are tried and true. I never felt like I had seen this story before.
In Panem, in the far future, two children from each of twelve districts are chosen as “tributes” to train and fight to the death in The Capitol until only one survives. This insures that each year, the districts are reminded of how much power The Capitol holds, and that rebellion and resistance would be futile. Donald Sutherland’s president reminds us that having zero survivors would instigate chaos, but having one would inspire hope. A little bit of hope is sometimes all that is needed to keep an oppressed people from trying their hand. And yet, offer up too much hope, they very well may play that hand.
What makes The Hunger Games so great is the craftsmanship of Gary Ross, director of Pleasantville. His sober and serious treatment of the story is what keeps it from going too far overboard. And yet, he understands that he can’t keep this story from being too bleak. Suzanne Collins’ book was already a fantastic narrative, but the screenplay made with Collins, Billy Ray, and Ross, expresses the story for the screen in a way many would have mishandled. It is never heavy-handed, and always interesting.
The story beats are spaced perfectly to avoid any loss of interest. This is a difficult thing to achieve in a movie that runs almost two-and-a-half hours. But the editing and act breaks are executed almost flawlessly. My only gripe is that the fight scenes succumb to rapid and hard-to-follow camera movements, and the finale isn’t handled with deftness like the rest of the story.
But otherwise, we got a better movie than we could have hoped for. Happy Hunger Games!