The Harry Potter series was, for the most part, crafted in a way to appeal to just about anyone who saw it.  It stood on its own as a great film
series and didn’t pander solely to its established fan base.

In contrast, the Twilight saga is almost exclusively enjoyed by fans of the novels.  Only a 14 year old girl could understand and tolerate
those train wrecks.

The Hunger Games is far better than Twilight.  But it does fall into a confusing middle ground where despite its many successes, the film
version feels just a bit lacking to the uninitiated.

The opening text briefly introduces us to the futuristic setting.  And by briefly, I mean there are three or four lines that do little more than
confuse anyone who doesn’t already know the story.  Why even bother.

So apparently North America was split into thirteen districts.  They rebelled or something.  Why?  I have no idea.  Now they pick two
adolescents from each district to go fight in some bizarre gladiatorial/reality television program in the woods.  Why?  No idea.

I suppose one could argue that the film intentionally throws you into the middle of the story.  But it seems more likely that the screenwriters
and director Gary Ross are either oblivious to or unconcerned by the story’s confusing nature.

Then there is the moment when our hero Katniss makes a hand gesture during the games.  The gesture is recreated by those watching in
District 12.  It’s a dramatic sequence that drew a reaction from fans in the theater.  I had no idea what this was and what it meant.

If it was from the viewers in District 9, I may have interpreted it as a reference to Wikus van de Merwe’s mutated alien hand.

But all this isn’t to say that The Hunger Games is a bad film.  Even though I may have been confused about much of this world, Gary Ross
does do a fantastic job establishing the characters that populate it.

Ross chooses to focus on the micro over the macro, and succeeds in wonderfully realizing the many zany supporting characters and, best
of all, the heroic Katniss Everdeen.

Katniss’ sister is chosen as a pledge for the games and Katniss volunteers in order to spare her.

Jennifer Lawrence is absolutely superb in this role.  Her grit and intensity as well as her vulnerability and genuine nature bring this
character to life in the way the rest of the film should have.

Director Ross is smart enough to remain focused on Lawrence and lets her do all the heavy lifting in this film.  This is a very impressive,
star making performance.

The veteran supporting cast is also very good.  Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Lenny Kravitz all
hit the right notes and many of them are clearly having a lot of fun with their characters.

Ross always keeps the film moving in its first a half.  His handheld-style guerrilla camerawork lends some weight to the rough nature of
poor district life and contrasts well with the glamour and excess when the pledges reach the sprawling capitol.

A huge portion of this film takes place during the games themselves.  The 24 pledges from the various districts are thrown in the woods in a
fight to the death.

It’s at this point the film begins losing some steam when it feels like it should be gaining it.

Part of the blame must go to the director.  Ross’ manic camerawork renders the violent sequences nearly incomprehensible.  It seems like
an obvious attempt to keep the film at that PG-13 level when the story cries out for an R.

In obscuring the brutality, Ross loses its full dramatic weight.

Luckily, Lawrence’s performance is so good it makes up for this oversight through her acts of pure determination and honor amongst the
savagery.

Despite its 142 minute running time, The Hunger Games ends on an abrupt note.  As the games conclude, there seems to be an open-
endedness that clearly suggests sequels; but the film doesn’t really hint at what those might be.  It seemed like it was setting up for a
cliffhanger that never really came.

Once again I can’t help but feel like I am missing something.

The Hunger Games has a lot of good elements in it.  But without a prior knowledge of the story, it simply feels incomplete.  It’s no surprise
that fans of the book seem to be thrilled with this adaptation.  They can easily fill in the blanks and the characters appear to be done great
justice.

In judging this film on its own merits, however, the whole ends up being less than its parts.

The Hunger Games may be a great companion for its target audience.  As a film, however, it fails to stand on its own.  It makes for an
entertaining, but hollow and confusing experience.

The very best adapted films require no prior knowledge of the source material.  In this regard, The Hunger Games falls short and left me
wishing I was served the full course instead of simply the appetizers.

* * ½
(out of four)
THE HUNGER GAMES
Directed by: Gary Ross

Written by: Gary Ross and Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody
Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth

Music by: James Newton Howard

Cinematography by: Tom Stern

Released: March 23, 2012; 142 Minutes