Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

"May The Odds Be Ever in Your Favor..."

Suzanne Collins' popular young adult series has followed in the footsteps of Stephanie Meyers' Twilight phenomenon in taking pop culture by storm.  With an ubelievable $153 Million earned on opening weekend, Gary Ross' The Hunger Games has managed to lure every reader of the novel and a whole slew of additional first-time viewers.  I was unable to contribute to the opening weekend gross but managed to take a day off work today and just saw a matinee showing of the film.  Having already read the book months ago, the story was fresh in my mind and I must say the movie did a great job of translating Collins' vision from page to screen.

The Hunger Games is set in the future on Earth where the people of Panem live in poverty and are controlled by the wealthy people of The Capitol.  To prevent further revolting from the general public, The Captiol sets up an annual competition (The Hunger Games) where each of the 12 Panem Districts send a boy and a girl (called Tributes) to compete in a bloody free-for-all where the last child standing ends up winning supplies and food for their district.  The first book/movie in Collins' series focuses on Katniss Everdeen of District 12 and the sacrifice she makes to take the place of her younger sister after she was selected at random to compete.

Katniss is played by Jennifer Lawrence who gained notoriety for her Oscar nominated performance in 2010's Winter's Bone.  Lawrence does a wonderful job of conveying the emotion and passion of Katniss which was highlighted in the book through her first-person narrative throughout the story.  She is able to portray the complex emotions that Katniss is faced with in her journey through the games and the audience really connects with her early-on in the film as we can see her motherly fondness for her younger sister Prim.  Josh Hutcherson and (Mr. Miley Cyrus) Liam Hemsworth play the two love interests for Katniss.  Hemsoworth (Gale) has only a handful of scenes and Hutcherson (Peeta) does an adequate job of playing the male District 12 counterpart to Katniss.  In all actuality though, this is Lawrence's movie and she completely dominates the screen from start to finish.

Ross does a good job of translating the look and style of The Capital and the people.  We see loudmouthed gabbing upper crust citizens of all shapes, colors and sizes.  All of the food served in the dining scenes is extravagant and beautifully detailed.  Ross and his production team have done a fantastic job of offsetting the drab and lifeless blues and grays of District 12 life with the colorful rainbow displayed at The Capital.  The biggest problem I had with the movie was the cheapness of the special effects.  With a $78 Million budget and mostly unknown actors, you'd think that Lionsgate could afford to pay a little more for the CGI.  Several of the scenes in The Capital are so obviously spliced together via green screen that it doesn't look remotely authentic at all.  Ross also uses too much shaky cam in the action scenes which might also be a by-product of dealing with a small effects budget.

Solid supporting turns by the reclusive Woody Harrelson as Tribute mentor Haymitch, Elizabeth Banks as the boisterous and ornery Effie Trinket and Stanley Tucci as the outgoing host of the telecast (Caeser) all help boost the scenes they are in.  Additionally, Lenny Kravitz shows up as Cinna the stylist and turns in a muted and effective performance.  Who knew Lenny could act??

Overall this is not a truly remarkable film but it does properly convey the original material and particularly thanks to Jennifer Lawrence, the film has a solid emotional core.  Despite the shoddy CGI and jerky camera work, the movie is highly entertaining.  The Hunger Games earns a solid 4 out of 5 JR's and I'm eagerly awaiting the follow-up film (I have to finish the book first) Catching Fire.  As long as Lawrence returns as Katniss, Collins' source material will be in good hands.  Lawrence is on the verge of big-time stardom and is one of the more promising young actresses working today.

Side Note:  Isn't it a bit odd that the middle book in both of the two prominent trilogies right now (Hunger Games and Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) contains the word "Fire"? 

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