Thursday, March 22, 2012
Movie review: The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games is, and deserves to be, the first blockbuster of the year.
The concept behind The Hunger Games (also showing on IMAX screens), in which future teenagers are pitted against one another in a fight to the death for a televised competition, is enough to give anyone pause. Translating Suzanne Collins’ popular young adult trilogy (sequels Catching Fire and Mockingjay will follow) to the big screen is another beast entirely, as writer/director Gary Ross would actually have to depict the brutal violence previously only beheld in readers’ imaginations.
Speculation abounded as to how Ross could not only accomplish that goal, but keep the PG-13 film relatively family-friendly. That’s not to mention that he, along with co-screenwriters Collins and Billy Ray, had to walk the fine line between including enough of the book to please its fans, but also making sure the movie could stand on its own merits for those not familiar with the story.
Any trepidation is quickly dispelled in Ross’ 142-minute thrilling and chilling adaptation. The titular Hunger Games are a competition held to punish members of 12 districts who dared to rebel against the leaders of their country at least 74 years in the past. The heroine of the film is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old from District 12 who volunteers to replace her sister, who was chosen at a lottery known as The Reaping. She’s joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a fellow District 12 resident, and 22 others in a show that’s part Survivor, part The Running Man.
What Ross gets right almost from the start is the tone. Pushing too hard could be deemed exploitative, but not pushing hard enough wouldn’t be true to the story. While the complete background of the characters is unknown, Ross does a fantastic job of giving the audience the feeling for what their lives are like, which is mostly dank, desolate, and depressing. Punches aren’t pulled once the contestants start the competition, with tastefully-edited blood spilling immediately. Most importantly, the stakes for Katniss, Peeta, and their fellow competitors are never diminished throughout the film, keeping the suspense level high for the duration.
There are a few missteps, however. Ross at times employs a frenetic editing style that shows multiple angles of essentially the same shot, which can be disorienting and downright annoying. A few storylines, such as a 13th district that’s mentioned but not brought up again, and the presence of Gale (Liam Hemsworth), a District 12 resident who may or may not be Katniss’ boyfriend, are left dangling, although they’ll presumably be dealt with in the sequels. The lack of in-depth history about the world does dampen any larger social commentary the film could have made, but then that’s not really the point.
Katniss, who comes from a backwoods area and does anything she can to survive, is essentially Lawrence’s Oscar-nominated role in Winter’s Bone writ large. But Lawrence never rests on her lauded laurels, making Katniss into somebody to be respected, feared, and loved all at the same time. Oh, and she also shoots a mean arrow. Hutcherson can’t help but pale in comparison, but he offers his own unique charms. Almost all of the supporting roles were cast well, especially Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, who escorts Katniss and Peeta to the games, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, their drunken mentor, and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, who helps Katniss transform her style and attitude.
Those who’ve read the book may or may not agree, but from my perspective, Ross has hit a home run with The Hunger Games. The series is destined to be just as big as the Twilight saga, although it deserves to be bigger since the film is much better than anything that other trilogy has delivered. Don’t miss it.
For showtimes for The Hunger Games, click here.