Monday, March 26, 2012


Directed by: Gary Ross
Written by: Gary Ross, Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and Donald Sutherland
Synopsis: 24 teens are picked to fight to the death until there is only one winner in front of the entire nation.

I cannot imagine the responsibility of adapting a popular book into a movie. The pressure to not only please the fans, but to make a successful film must be daunting. Director Gary Ross bravely took that challenge, and actually pulled off a faithful adaptation and entertaining film.

Set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian future, THE HUNGER GAMES opens telling us that in the nation of Panem, the 12 districts grew tired of being ruled by the wealthy and rebelled. The districts were defeated, and as an annual reminder, a teenage boy and girl from each district (tributes) each year are picked to fight in The Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death with only one winner. In the reaping for the poor District 12, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers after her little sister Prim is picked. Katniss is smart, quick, and an accomplished archer, but she only has a 1 in 24 chance of survival. After saying goodbye to her mother, sister, and best friend Gale, Katniss and the boy tribute, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and their drunken mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), travel to the Capitol.

Even though the bulk of the action and tension are saved for the actual Games, the film spends ample time in the preparation/training of the tributes at the Capitol, where some of the more twisted aspects of this world are shown. The tributes are treated as almost celebrities by the Capitol residents. They're paraded around like shiny new toys, glammed up, and even interviewed on a sort of talk show. For most of the tributes, the glitz and sparkle of Capitol is a complete 180 from their home, as many of the districts are bleak and poor. It becomes important not only to be strong, cunning, and savvy within the Games, but to play the game and garner favor with the audiences. Just like modern day competition shows, the more the masses are on your side, the better your chances of winning.

No one in the Capitol seems to question the charade of the Games, and the whole city seems to stop during the days leading up. It's gives you goosebumps to think that a society would be okay with this; it's like watching and cheering animals being lead to the slaughter. Of course there are people who want to see the Games come to an end. The outlying districts don't want to give up their children to as penance every year, but they have no choice. Gale tells Katniss early in the film that the Games would end if no one watched them. She shrugs this off because that would never happen. But what if it did? The decree never says the citizens of Panem must watch The Hunger Games, so why do they? Well, like in our own culture, we are severely influenced by the media, even if we don't mean to be.  The movie never fully explores this theme of media influence as well as I would have hoped.

It would have been easy to speed through the hoopla before and go straight to the arena, which is as action packed and entertaining as you hoped; however, Gary Ross takes the time to build up these characters. Jennifer Lawrence absolutely shines as Katniss and has such a presence on screen. She exudes toughness and vulnerability and was a perfect choice to carry this series. Josh Hutcherson is good as Peeta, but his performance is somewhat weak compared to Lawrence, Banks' Effie, Sutherland's Snow, and Tucci's Caesar.

The weakness of the film lies in some pacing issues. Not that any part needed to be on the cutting room floor, but there were some moments, even during the actual Games, that the pacing dropped severely and seemed off. Also, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch was such a let down. It may have been how the character was written for the screen, but Haymitch is suppose to be one of the most memorable characters, and he just became lackluster and a talking piece of cliche advice for Katniss and Peeta. Some of the action scenes give off a BOURNE vibe with the shaky cam, so be sure not to place yourself on the front row.

THE HUNGER GAMES will satisfy both fans of the books and fans of action. It will somewhat fill the Harry Potter hole in your heart. However, the real test of the series will be the next two movies. Of the three books, the first one has the strongest story. The story becomes more wishy-washy and disjointed with the next two. Even though this was a very good and faithful adaptation of a book, the writers need to  really think about making some substantial changes to the story from here on out.

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