The Hunger Games (2012)
Director: Gary Ross
Writer: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray
Based On: “The Hunger Games” (Novel) By: Suzanne Collins
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland
Country: United States
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Time: 142 minutes
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
USA Release: 3/23/2012
On DVD (USA): 8/18/2012
Awards: 1 Golden Globe Nomination
“The Hunger Games” may be by far one of the most anticipated movies of the year. Based on the popular book trilogy by Suzanne Collins we are about to impark on a death match to the very end…between kids!? Yes you heard me right, the kick off to what seems to be a great adaptation (according to critics) of the first book in the trilogy is sure to keep both fans and non fans glued to the screen amidst all of the thrilling action and drama (I know the book definitely had me glued). But with it being a 2 hour and 22 minute movie, will it really keep you on the edge of your seat?
When it’s time for the Reaping (the process that determines the Tributes for the 74th Annual Hunger Games) everything just seems like it normally does. But as Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) stands in the District 12 square like every year waiting to hear which boy and girl from their district will be called to fight to the death, there is something different as this year she isn’t the only one from her family at risk. Now her sister Prim is of age and has a chance at getting her named called. To Katniss’ dismay the worst happens as Prim’s name is called but without hesitation she volunteers to take her place which means she will have to fight more than she ever has to survive. Soon Katniss is rushed off saying goodbye to her family and friends and put on a train with the other tribute from her district Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to head for the Capital where the games will take place. After a week of preparation and interviews most of which are televised it’s time for the 74th Annual Hunger Games to begin, and the only question that remains is which of the 24 tributes will be the one to survive?
Like with most films that are adapted from something I went and read all of the source material before stepping into the theater to see this. Mostly I do that to see how it holds up but sometime and mostly with book adaptations you end up getting more out of it since of course the movie can’t possible do every little thing from the book or it would be 3 plus hours long. Anyways going into this I had my understanding of what was going to happen and how it could be accomplished and I had a good feeling that everything would play out in a satisfying and entertaining way. But then I walked out of the theater, now before you start to think I hated the movie I didn’t I very much enjoyed it there was just something about it that didn’t have me as excited as I normally get when a great movie is finished. And since then I still haven’t quite figured out what it was that got to me, everything that I thought was going to happen and or focus on was and the dialogue was pretty much like the book but I think it’s just little things that had me questioning my full liking of the movie, but maybe I’m just nitpicking.
In any case I thought that director and co-writer Gary Ross did an excellent job putting this production into motion. Like with his earlier film and probably my favorite of his “Pleasantville” (although I still haven’t seen “Seabiscuit”) he knows how to use a vast array of creativity when it comes to the visual aspect of a story, sometimes even pushing the broadness. But with “The Hunger Games” he is able to go pretty broad as the Capital itself already embodies that itself in the story and between that and showing the slum-like areas that are the Districts it really gets a deeper message across showing comparisons to life at this time. Like I said before the visual aspect of the movie is stunning especially with how raw they shoot in the forest of the arena and back in District 12. Only one annoyance I had with the cinematography was the use (maybe overuse) of the handheld shaky-cam style and I don’t seem to be the only one. While it’s use is to put us in the action, it can sometimes be distracting having us focus more on trying to figure out what we are seeing thought the shaking rather than what the scenes is turning into. Another thing was the pacing and while I didn’t find it to be all that long (even if the movie is almost 2 and a half hours) it didn’t seem too slow overall, especially when you remember that it’s a drama above everything else and with that it was quite gripping at time. On the other hand it wasn’t really the pacing that bothered me but the movie’s sense of time as events that happed over a matter of days in the book magical happened in a matter of hours on the screen. While that isn’t too major of a problem it could lead to some confusion. But that is sometimes the problem with the first in a series of book-to-screen adaptations as you try to introduce characters and places, running time begins to become your enemy.
As for the writing I felt that the story relayed pretty well to the big screen however I did find some little problems. First off though I think it was extremely smart to have Suzanne Collins co-write the screenplay with Gary Ross and Billy Ray. Many adaptations get lost in there translation to the big screen when they focus on less important things and never address underlining storylines. And with Collins co-writing the adaptation it stayed very true to her source material. With “The Hunger Games” though, while I feel that we didn’t fully connect with the characters the way I was hoping for they knew what to focus on and what to not. I say that we didn’t get enough connection time with the characters because there are times that their actions either aren’t fully explained or come off somewhat confusing to someone that hasn’t read the book. And when I saw that I realized that they had catered mostly to people who had read the book and no so much to someone who hasn’t (as the friend I saw the movie with had some questions after viewing). It left some holes that obviously only reading the book could fill. Not to say that they didn’t try, with the extension of Caesar Flickerman’s (played by Stanley Tucci) character that added as a communicator for us the audience, helping layout what “The Hunger Games” is and what is going on. As you see what I said in the beginning is what it is, I’m nitpicking at small details that reflect the story as a whole, like the sometime minor tone changes among what I said above. Would I be saying all of this if I hadn’t read the book, probably not but there it is. But it’s like that with any book-to-screen adaptation and the bottom line is always so clear… The book is always better than the movie. Even with that though the adaptation is clearly done very well having the action from the book be somewhat horrifying and yet beautifully executed at the same time (although it is a bit more intensified in the book but they would have lost that PG-13 rating). Among the action is the sickening resemblance to life today as the entire event is televised like a twisted version of “The Truman Show” which begs the questions “could this be in our future?”. Hopefully it isn’t as I’m pretty sure no one is that sick but if it does it will probably resemble something more like “Battle Royale” (based on what I saw in the trailer) than “The Hunger Games”.
Moving forward the acting in this is superb, every character from the major characters to even the minor ones are what I expected them to be like. Although Wes Bentley’s Seneca Crane is an extended look we see his hidden sadistic side to putting as much entertainment into the games so that the people at home can enjoy. The same can be said about Donald Sutherland as President Snow, who is in the book but not seen that much, but is used to connect us to the next story “Catching Fire” at least in the movie form. And both Bentley and Sutherland do a great job at conveying those characters. Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman as I said before is the connector between the movie and us the audience as he announces the games as a commentator for something like on ESPN as well as an interviewer in the Conan O’Brien or Craig Ferguson fashion. Lenny Kravitz displays some acting chops that I didn’t know he had (I still haven’t gotten around to watching “Precious”) and also had some great chemistry with Lawrence’s Katniss. He displays compassion, sensitivity and wisdom behind each line he delivers as reassurance to Katniss. As for Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks who play Haymitch and Effie respectively, they both do great jobs of playing up some of the serious sides as well as being the comic relief although that is left more up to by the latter. Toby Jones who plays Claudius Templesmith was pretty much a waste seeing as he has maybe a handful of lines and is seen even less so.
Of the tributes there are only a little more than a handful to mention but they all play out just as I had hoped for. Some of the smaller roles in the tribute line up are Leven Rambin as Glimmer, Jack Quaid as Marvel, Jacqueline Emerson as Foxface and Dayo Okeniyi as Thresh. Of those four although they aren’t seen that much what we do see is true to the type of character they are portraying like the quietly clever Foxface to the terrifyingly destructive Thresh, those four actors did a very good job in their roles. But it’s these three actors that left the biggest impression, Alexander Ludwig as Cato, Isabelle Fuhrman as Clove and Amandla Stenberg as Rue. All three of them delivered exactly what I wanted to see from there characters, angelic like qualities from Rue and utter chaos from Cato and Clove. Ludwig who is an actor that I have kept an eye on since I first saw “The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising” has played on the good side of the character chart so it was nice to see him stretching and having fun playing the sadistic Cato. Fuhrman who had a small breakout back in 2009’s Orphan (I have not seen the film) as the character of Esther has shown her terrifying side yet again in this, which will probably be her breakout role. And although I’m suppose to hate her character I enjoyed seeing her wielding all her knives especially in her finale scenes. As for Stenberg she is like her character, an angel and like with Willow Shields (who plays Katniss’ sister Prim) displays innocence and everything a child in this situation is suppose to feel. Her performances in her finale scene is tear jerking and heartbreakingly beautiful, and like Fuhrman this will be her breakout role. And then there is Liam Hemsworth as Gale, it was hard to get a reading on his acting ability in this as he doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time where he isn’t just looking moody and sad but in the beginning scenes he is like the Gale I picture in the book, strong and loyal.
I’m almost done as I get to our two leads. Josh Hutcherson who plays Peeta Mellark does a fantastic job and is almost spot on in his performance, but there is just one thing that bothered me. The charisma that Peeta displays in the book is somehow lost either by the writing or Hutcherson’s performance and I think it is the latter. And because of that some of his actions in the Hunger Games interviews and other situations come off in a different maybe a little confusion tone. He seems almost sinister instead of just somewhat untrusting which is nothing I would say to describe his character. Other than that though I felt that Hutcherson displayed the right features of venerability and kindheartedness needed. And as for Jennifer Larwence who played Katniss Everdeen I thought she was perfect. Like many others I will draw comparison to her breakout Oscar nominated role as Ree Dolly in “Winters’s Bone” as she displays the same type of qualities in both. She embodies the heart and steadfastness needed in this post-apocalyptic world where all you can count on is yourself. She may have shown more venerability in the book through her inner thought but Larwence displays the hard exterior of her feelings well showing her isolation with other people especially with Peeta. Even with some limited venerability as a whole there is one brilliantly performed scene that shows Larwence’s superb acting ability and range and that’s when she is just about to go start the games and is shaking like a leaf, it take true control and talent to subtly perform that, most others it would undoubtedly be extremely noticeable maybe downright laughable. The chemistry between Hutcherson and Larwence is pretty good as they have limited amount of time to really show it but that will hopefully be explored more in the next installment in the series.
Overall “The Hunger Games” is a well executed adaptation of Suzanne Collins source material. And although it has it’s problems like lack of character-audience connection, you still will find yourself rooting for Katniss, Peeta and Rue. The action sequences within the arena are very raw and intense at times. And the drama unfolds very well throughout the entire movie. While you may walk out loving the movie, if you haven’t read the book you may have question or be confused. So if you’re really interested in the movie I suggest checking out the book beforehand to cover the parts that don’t get a lot of attention in the movie.