Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hunger Games Plays by the Rules


The excitement has been building for months and, as I write this, the film has already set the record for the best opening day ever for a non-sequel with $68.3 million dollars. While the box office information only really matters to studio executives, if nothing else the strong opening shows that The Hunger Games has united the fans and curious alike. The ten o’clock Saturday morning screening I attended was ninety-percent full as many, such as the young female soccer team that took up the entire row behind me, decided to make the film a communal event. Since the anticipation for the film has been running rampant for months, it almost seemed impossible for the film to live up to high expectations. Fortunately, director Gary Ross manages to craft a solid film adaptation that should please both die-hard fans and newcomers alike.

Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is set in the dystopian world of Panem. Comprised of twelve distinct districts, and run by President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), Panem is filled with widespread poverty and very little hope. The Capitol is the only city that manages to thrive in such harsh times. In order to remind the districts of the Capitol’s authority, The Hunger Games were created and take place annually. For the games one male and one female is selected randomly from each district and forced to compete in battle for survival with the representatives, known as tributes, from the other districts until there is one sole winner. When sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is selected to represent their home of District 12, Katniss quickly volunteers to take her place. Leaving her family and close friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) behind, Katniss is forced to battle her fellow tributes, including District 12’s own Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) to the death. The only aid Katniss has along this harrowing journey is Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a drunkard and the only living District 12 victor from previous games, who serves as Katniss and Peetra’s district mentor; and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) a Capitol representative who serves as the pair’s image consultant. However Haymitch and Effie can only help so much, once Katniss enters the arena it is every person for themselves.

Considering that a lot of the novel is told strictly from Katniss’ internal monologue, Gary Ross had to find a way to capture the emotions and excitement of the novel in a way audiences could understand. Ross wisely opts to play up the actual games aspect and the ripple effect they have on world of Panem. The Hunger Games are more a commentary on people being repressed than it is about glorifying youth violence. In fact, the actual violence in the film is handled in a rather tasteful manner. Most of the action happens in quick cuts and the more gruesome deaths happen off screen. There will probably be those individuals who knock the film for its PG-level approach to the violence. However, the film understands that the overall story of the novel is far deeper than mere young people killing each other.


While The Hunger Games film does a good job of incorporating the key moments from the novel, there are two things in particular that did not translate as well as they should have. The first being the love arc, which does not flow well, in the last act. The scenes in the cave played far better in text form with the full context included. In the film it feels too choppy and slows down the pacing. It is as if the film trys too hard at that point to sell the love triangle subplot. The other thing that did not quite work in the film was the handling of the “mutations”. While they provide a brief moment of excitement towards the end of the film, they do not carry the same horrific weight in the film as they do in the novel. This causes a missed opportunity to really cement how twisted the games really are.

This is not to say that The Hunger Games does not do a good job of establishing who the villains are, but a little more context about the mutations would have added another sinister layer to Sutherland’s President Snow. Sutherland does a decent job with what he is given to work with, but the film ultimately belongs to Jennifer Lawrence. As Katniss, Lawrence gives another star-making performance that showcases her talents to all those who may have missed her outstanding work in the film Winter’s Bone. She really captures the spirit of the character, showcasing her character’s delicate mix of courage and fear. You can see why Katniss would unknowingly become a symbol of rebellion. The majority of the cast turn out solid performances, especially Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks with several scene stealing moments. Banks in particular is unrecognizable thanks to the makeup and wardrobe worn by her character throughout the film.

Aside from a few minor issues with the last act, The Hunger Games delivered on every level. It stayed true to the book while still managing to carve out its own unique voice. The film will entertain both fans and newcomers alike. The odds are indeed in this franchise‘s favor!

10 comments:

  1. Great review! Glad you liked it! I was surprised by how well some aspects were adapted but gutted there wasn't more blood!

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    1. You have to remember that the studio would not make this film with an R-rating. There would be no way for them to reach the audience that it does. I cannot see parents taking their kids to the film if it was gory.

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  2. i liked this too! and i have to say, i was worried about the romantic edge and hoped they didn't dwell on it much and glad they didn't i liked how they played it in the movie.

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    1. I was worried about how the romantic angle would play out as well. Aside from my issues with the cave scene, I thought the film did a decent job setting up the love triangle and the complications that will arise. Lets hope they continue to take care with how things play out. I would hate for this series to go the way of Twilight in the second and third film.

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  3. I just saw this. I was really frustrated that roughly a third of the movie was rendered nearly unwatchable through the use of shakycam. The scenes where they did quiet the camera down were everything you could hope for - emotional, moving, tense, well-acted, etc. I really feel a loss at how great this film could have been if the director hadn't decided to try to show the world he was an artiste. I can't believe this is the same guy who directed Pleasantville.

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    1. I have heard a lot of people complain about the shakycam. I found it the most noticeable in the first act, but I did not mind it when it was used in the actual games.

      I was also shocked that Ross managed to pull this off. Pleasantville is a film that I liked when I first saw it and have grown to detest over the years. I also found Seabiscuit to be rather uneventful film. Needless to say, The Hunger Games has made me look at Ross in a whole new light.

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    2. Yeah, I went into it having already heard some of the shakycam issues and was half-sick at first but by the time it got to the Capitol it wasn't an issue. Like you I was disappointed by skipping over the "muttitations" as interesting monsters.

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    3. I have heard several people say that there is no way to accurately convey the monsters on screen. However, if Ross had just add one line where Katniss is questioning the fact that there is something different about the creatures, or at least incorporate one monster of a different size, the point would have come across beautifully.

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  4. Great review! If only I agreed with you! ;p

    Full disclosure: I only got 20 pages into the book and had to quit (I hate first person narrative!). I was hopeful, based on the trailer, that I wouldn't miss much, but having seen the film now, it seems the book contains all the details that make this story even remotely worth telling.

    This was one of the most boring films I've seen in a long time. I expected to be on the edge of my seat, terrified for Katniss and the other kids - or feeling something for them - but that wasn't the case at all. The only time I felt any kind of anxiety or fear or sadness in the film was when Katniss volunteers; when she steps into that pod that takes her to the podium and she starts to freak out a bit, and when the little girl dies. How they managed to make a fight to the death game so boring, I'll never know. If anything, they should have used more shakycam footage (and believe me, I'm not a huge fan of that) to make us feel more like we were in the game with them, experiencing what they were experiencing, instead of detached observers.

    And don't get me started on the cave scene; that was pretty much the point at which all the life got sucked out of this movie. Hey, we're in a life and death game, so let's hide out. In reality, that would be a smart move; in a movie life and death game, it's deathly dull. And yes, I do realize it was used to further advance the love story, but when you're already bored half to death by the game going on outside the cave, it's about as exciting as watching an action typing sequence on Flashpoint.

    So disappointing. Whoever cut the trailer together should win an award in the art of misleading category.

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    1. The first person narrative in the novel can get a bit annoying, especially when Katniss is debating between her feelings for both Gale and Peeta. Other than that it did not bother me too much. I actually really like the first book, the subsequent books are not as strong in my opinion.

      As for the movie, I thought it did a good job of capturing key moments from the text. It may not have had the full emotional bunch that the book had but I thought what it did have was sufficient enough. I guess it is tough to convey a full sense of dread when the audience knows there are still two more films to come.

      I am not a fan of the cave scene either as it kills the momentum of both the book and the film somewhat. Still, overall I thought it was a good adaptation.

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