Friday, March 30, 2012

Movie Review - The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (2012) * * * * *
Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kavitz, and Donald Sutherland

From IMDB:
"In a not-too-distant future, North America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcast throughout Panem. The 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss' young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives."

My Thoughts:
So yesterday I wrote a little bit about The Hunger Games, and my thoughts on the novel.  If you missed it you can find it here.  So I thought that today I would write about the movie, which Bob and I saw on Sunday morning.  I didn't think that we would get to see it on opening weekend, but I guess everyone was still at church or something, because the theater wasn't nearly as crowded as I thought it would be, and there were also far fewer teenagers than I expected.

Some spoilers to follow!  Once again I'm not going to talk much about the story itself, as most people are pretty much aware of the basic plot of the movie, which very closely follows the book - leaving out very little in the way important information, and pruning back some of the slower portions of the story which makes the movie tighter and even better paced than the book.

What the writers did do brilliantly was the things they added in. My biggest problem with the book was that the reader was locked into Katniss' viewpoint only, and thus had no idea what was happening in the world outside the arena.  The movie very cleverly adds some scenes that show us how the games are run, how viewing the games is affecting Katniss' family and friends at home, and how hard Haymitch is working on her behalf from the outside.  There are also several amazing scenes between Seneca and President Snow where they discuss how to handle what they are beginning to perceive as her defiance, and how to best give the viewers what they want to see.

These additional scenes worked well as the movie progressed because of the way they show how the process works from the outside of the arena.  As the Game Makers view the tributes' efforts to survive they tweak the surrounding through their holographic displays to achieve various reactions, and watching their skill at running and maintaining the games properly, and their pride in their own work, was especially horrifying in its' own right.

Jennifier Lawrence does an amazing job as Katniss - I know some have complained about her "wooden facial expressions and dead eyes" but I took that as part of the characters struggle to not fall apart from all the fear and terror she's experiencing, and her attempt to stay strong.  And she really does manage to convey that fear quite well.  Josh Hutcherson did ok as Peeta, though I felt he was a little subdued, but the scene where he talks about not wanting to let the circumstances change who is was incredibly well done.  The two characters that I felt were played especially well were Woody Harrleson's portrayal of Haymitch, which was outstanding, and Elizabeth Banks, who plays the role of Effie fantastically.

For those who are concerned about the violence in the film, I actually ended up feeling that the movie is far less violent than the book itself.  The scene where the Tributes first enter the arena is an absolute bloodbath in the book, but the movie handled it very tastefully through the judicious use of the ShakeyCam, which I know many people hate, but which definitely lent a sense of urgency and confusion to the scene, and also helped to disguise what could have been a very gory scene, yet still drives home the awfulness of the situation.

One of the more emotional moments in the movie, and this surprised me because it wasn't the one I expected, was a flashback moment where Katniss is remembering the death of her father in a mine explosion and the difficult times that followed.  It's a very short sequence, showing the explosion at the mine which then transfers to her tiny home exploding in slow motion, as the walls and furniture blast apart in a cloud of smoke and dust and then slowly reverse and all come back together again, representing the destruction of the family and its' reconstruction.  It's a beautiful moment of cinematography and was extremely well done, and hugely emotional.

I could easily go on and on about all the things that I liked about The Hunger Games.  In fact, I enjoyed it far more than I did the book - it's tighter, more focused, and better paced than the original material, in my opinion, and the only things I didn't like about it were the things that I felt were flaws in the book itself, mainly the world-building aspects of the story.

I'm giving The Hunger Games movie five stars.  I loved it and I can't wait to see it again.  Bob quite enjoyed it and had no trouble following the story even though he hasn't read the book.

My only caution would be that if you have younger teens and are concerned about the violence, you might want to view it yourself before you take your kids. But if you've already allowed them to read the books then that particular aspect shouldn't be a problem.

Have you seen the movie yet?  Leave me a comment and let me know if you agree or disagree with me!  And may the odds be ever in your favor!


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