THE HUNGER GAMES Review

For most fans of "The Hunger Games" series the film adaptation has been a long time coming. Since it was first announced a year ago who would be directing and starring in the film a slew of other news and information, photos and trailers have come out prepping everyone for the next huge series based on a young adult book series. I think it is important to note that this reviewer has read all three books and loved them. Since seeing the movie I have spoken with others who have also read the books and heard their thoughts on it as well as with those who went in without knowing anything more than a plot synopsis. Both have had equally interesting things to say ranging from it being the best adaptation that could have possibly been made from the book to those who were a little confused as to what all of this meant but at least engaged with where all of this might be going. I tend to agree that director Gary Ross and his team have constructed what is probably the best visual representation of Suzanne Collins imagination as they could. The dystopian world in which 12 districts remain in the ruins of North America is delivered in the opening moments of the film with that outermost district of 12 being a place of hardship and citizens barely making it by in their day to day lives. On the other end of the spectrum is the capitol, a place that visually is like a technologically advanced Oz with crowds of large wigs and ridiculous face paint. The books are of a certain commentary on the world today and the type of entertainment we can find enjoyable. Will fans of the book think the movie is better? Probably not, but that has never been a fair judgement. Where the book gave us the internal thoughts and reasoning's of our characters the movies give us the how. What is so appealing about "The Hunger Games" film is that while it certainly delivers the "how" of Suzanne Collins world it is able to tap into the "why" as well and give us hints of what is to come while setting everything up in this first chapter with satisfying results.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale Hawthorne
(Liam Hemsworth) ready themselves for the reaping.
For those that are still unaware of what the story is here it can basically be summed up in that each year a boy and girl tribute between the ages of 12 and 18 from each of the 12 districts are chosen to compete in the hunger games. The 24 contestants are placed in an arena to fight to the death until their is only one victor remaining. This is done to remind the citizens of Panem (the nation that now exists in place of North America) of the rebellion that happened previously and why it should never happen again. By the time Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are chosen as the tributes from district 12 Panem is now on their 74th hunger games. For those of you who have heard the comparisons to the "Twilight" series you can stop thinking that here because the only similarity between the two series is the angle of the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Katniss's long time friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). This also isn't the main focus of the story either, and even throughout the series it serves as a second string subplot to the games. For the first hour of the film director Ross is able to introduce those who are unfamiliar with the world of Panem to the ins and outs and rules of the game while giving those anxious to see their imaginations materialized on screen reason to be excited as the tone is pitch perfect and the players couldn't be better.

Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) interviews Katniss after she
takes the place of her sister as the girl tribute from district 12. 
Katniss is a strong female lead that has taken care of her younger sister, Primrose, since her mother lapsed into simply existing after her husbands death. Katniss doesn't have time for feeling sorry for herself, she hunts and keeps the family well fed and as you've probably seen in the trailer volunteers to take Primrose's spot when she is originally chosen for the games. In this role, Jennifer Lawrence does look and sometimes feels a little too old to be playing the 16 year-old, but she is so honest and sincere in her performance that it is hard to picture a better Katniss. Lawrence is the sole reason why some of the emotions elicited from Collins words are to be felt as if they were perfectly translated to the screen. She is forced, as Ross was to tell an elaborate story and set up a large universe within a certain amount of time while trying to please themselves and fans of the series. It is not an easy task, but Ross knew what he was doing when he placed Lawrence in the role because not only does she have the tomboy-ish rogue side to pull off the district 12 Katniss, but also the beauty and stamina to pull off the Katniss that is forced out of her comfort zone and the vulnerability of the girl on fire who has to survive in the capitol where there are more games being played than just the ones in the arena.

The same can almost be said for Hutcherson as Peeta. In the books, Peeta is the most genuine kind of person that expresses such a pure, unselfish love for Katniss that he knows from the beginning if anyone is going to win it will be his fellow tribute. Hutcherson is a gentle faced young actor with a humble persona that for me, felt like it fit perfectly with who Peeta was. On screen, Hutcherson is not able to convey as much depth as the literary Peeta did, but I am anxious to see how Hutcherson grows as a performer throughout the series as Peeta becomes a character that will require the skills of a very talented actor to portray. As for Gale, Hemsworth does his best with his limited screen time here while setting up why Katniss will have such a hard time determining what her relationship with her best friend could be and if the new feelings she is experiencing for Peeta are even real or if they can outweigh that bond with Gale. Thank God director Ross didn't feel the need to force this triangle to the front just for the sake of competing with "Twilight" but instead goes for the more subtle route of simply cutting to a shot of Gale when Katniss and Peeta have their first onscreen kiss. Now that's drama.

From left: Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) Haymitch (Woody Harrelson)
and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) discuss the games.
The remainder of the cast is sprinkled with pros who, as in any good franchise, support the more unknown leads with a stable backdrop to handle such massive movies. Whether it be the perfectly cast Elizabeth Banks as the love to hate her Effie Trinket, an intimidating Donald Sutherland as President Snow, or the great Stanley Tucci showing off his charisma as the hunger games emcee Caeser Flickerman. It only gets better when we are introduced to Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. Cinna is a beloved character in the books, a rock for our protagonist and in the most unexpected of choices with Kravitz he proves to be a rather inspired, soft-spoken mentor that truly understands the horrifying truth of the games. The man who steals the show though is Woody Harrelson as the drunken mentor to our two tributes, Haymitch Abernathy. Haymitch is the only tribute for district 12 to have ever won the hunger games and Harrelson easily transitions him from the alcoholic we first meet who could care less whether his district wins or loses to a mentor that not only knows the best ways to survive in the arena but the best tactics to win over the sponsors outside of it. There is obviously going to be much more of the page dedicated to these characters then there will be available screen time and so to have actors inhabit these roles that can bring out the defining characteristics in such short amount of time is a real credit to not only their talent but to Ross and his skills not only as a director but as a writer on the script.

Peeta runs into some tough times in the arena.
Early on, to capture the tone and desperation of district 12 director Ross uses a lot (maybe a little too much) of the handheld camera and stages the reaping (the lottery-like picking of the two tributes) to almost resemble a World War II Nazi concentration camp. The color palette is filled with faded grays and blues while the capitol guards stand in attention in pure white in case anything decides to disrupt the ceremony. Ross has said repeatedly how he did not intend to give the production a glossy, over-stylized feel in that this would almost be a way of conforming to what the capitol would want the movie to be. His intentions were brave and he has succeeded in making a film that stays absolutely true to the spirit of the book while only managing to lose a small amount of the social commentary that is contained within them. The stories have also been accused of being taken from a 2000 Japanese film "Battle Royale" about a class of 9th graders being dropped on a deserted island and forced to kill one another. That film though does not feature the lush back story or government force that is the foundation of conflict in "The Hunger Games". That film is more a commentary on the moral flexibility and impressionable minds of the youth while Collins stories seem to be more of a social commentary on the entertainment industry and how we as a society eat it up.

Katniss practices her bow & arrow skills by hunting in the
woods outside of district 12.
Collins said her inspiration for the books came from channel surfing one night and coming across a reality show where contestants were competing for a prize and then seeing footage of the war in Iraq. The meshing of these two can certainly form an unsettling idea, but even more so the world that Collins has since conceived from this idea is something of a canvas for people with different sets of ideas to see the story as they want to see it. Whether it be a political message where the government flourishes off the day to day work of the less important population or that the elite in the capitol are the 1% forcing those from different economic standings to fight for their own amusement. The reason for this is simple in that both Collins in her books and Ross with his film have left a lot of things open for our own conclusions. Whatever conclusions may be drawn it is certainly a mirror for its audience (us) to take a good hard look at ourselves. Does it make you feel bad about the obsession you have with reality TV? That what we see as entertainment really might be a tragedy for that person on screen who has to deal with it and go through that? No matter the point of view or interpretation you might perceive from the series it is clear that at least it is making its audience think, something not found to often in blockbuster movies.

Effie, Haymitch, and Katniss watch the results of the
gamemaker's judgements on each contestant.
"The Hunger Games" is a film that while provoking a variety of reactions from its audience is also an entertaining thriller that introduces us to a cast of characters and a world that leaves us wanting more. The one drawback to the film is that for all of the implications this story makes the film version does not make those strong impressions that Katniss feels alone in this world. The actual games, which don't start until an hour into the film feel rushed and too easily dealt with whereas in the book the games showed a character simply trying to survive with no other worries on her mind. Ross in his film has already began to imply where the outside world is going and that is fine seeing as this truly is an origin story, but to do this also means the film needs to capture the heart of why those in the outer districts feel the strong courage to rebel. It needs to not just paint President Snow as the villain but everyone who is not with Katniss in her quest to save and protect the ones she loves. That it looks over the implications of what Katniss is actually going through when she is primped and made-up to put on a performance for the camera is glassed over as if the story was being told from Effie's point of view rather than Katniss's. We need to know that Katniss is not enjoying herself, that in all reality she is conflicted about how she is acting versus what her gut is telling her to do. This will of course come to more fruition in the second and third installment of the series, but I can only hope this aspect of the story was slighted from the first film because of its need to introduce the world to Panem and its population. From this point on there is no need for pleasantries but instead we can immediately get down to business. "The Hunger Games" is nothing short of an entertaining film and is a fine adaptation but for the films to really go somewhere they will have to dig deeper into the psychology of our heroine in "Catching Fire".