I reviewed THE HUNGER GAMES last year, the Suzanne Collins novel. I had harsh words for this novel who I felt had sabotaged its own (great) potential. My feelings have mellowed since then, because I figured I could get behind Katniss Everdeen as a popular female figure a lot more than I could with Bella Swan. She conveys healthier values and quite frankly, I think it's cool that females finally get a cool action heroine. Not a big tittied girl in a ridiculous spandex suit, pulled from the imagination of a lonely and disturbed man. No, a real chick that may suffer from teenage angst a little, but who really represents the best a woman can give in life or death situations. Caught in a social situation at the theater, THE HUNGER GAMES has been thrown as a suggestion and I figured why the hell not? Turned out to be great. The movie adaptation of the international bestseller is everything its fans wanted it to be. No, it's not the next TWILIGHT. Not in a hundred years.
If you're not familiar with universe of THE HUNGER GAMES, it's set in a far future, where the nation of Panem has been build on the ruins of the United States. There are twelve districts around the Capitol and the further the district is, the poorer. Every year, to commemorate the squashing of a rebellion that happened many moons ago, every districts give one boy and and one girl between twelve and eighteen years old as "tributes" to compete in a death match on national television. Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) lives in district twelve (the last, poorest one) where she has to hunt to feed her family because her dad's dead and her mom's a bit crazy. When her little sister Primrose gets picked as a tribute, Katniss freaks out and proposes herself instead. Male tribute is a kid named Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) who Katniss shares weirdly intimate memories with. Then off to the Capitol they go, to compete in this demented celebration of sadistic violence. That's the jist of it.
Now, since I've read the story already I can only comment about the quality of the adaptation. It's quite frankly, a huge success. I have to say I liked the movie better than I liked the novel, because of two things. First, they went easy on the sentimental stuff. Much of Katniss' torn feelings towards Peeta are expressed in short, awkward silences, in quick looks. It's never complacent, never very long either. The "political" aspect of Katniss and Peeta's relationship is well-played also. Better than in the book. Basically, their mentor * Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) wants to play them as the damned lovers from District 12, so they can play the public and get sponsors**. There is always a doubt to how much of it is true and Lawrence and Hutcherson play that really well. Also, it's a very visual adaptation. As the novel is narrated by Katniss, she has absolutely zero voice-overs in the movie. It relies on Jennifer Lawrence and on terrific artistic direction. The world feels alive, the disparity of wealth in between the district is more than noticeable, it will downright piss you off. I was worried that Gary Ross, the man behind that shitfest PLEASANTVILLE was directing the movie, but rest assured. He co-wrote the script with Suzanne Collins and it's obvious she didn't let go of the rights to her story without saying her word.
I have many things to say about this movie, but I have to stop to talk about Jennifer Lawrence. She is SO good. She is everything Katniss in the novel was and even more. Her non-verbal game is so off the hook, it's hard to find words that will do her justice. You will believe she thinks she's going to The Hunger Games to die. You will believe her nervousness when she's hugging Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) before getting in the battle arena. There is this awesome scene where she has to suck it up and nurse an injury in silence and Lawrence's game is so layered and complex, it's unbelievable. You will believe that she has strong motherly instincts and see her light up whenever there is somebody to protect. She was really the perfect cast to play Katniss. Other natural choices go with Harrelson as Haymitch (he really gets that rugged complicity with Katniss) and Donald Sutherland who I thought was the very image of President Snow. Lenny Kravitz has a few flaws as Cinna, but carries the sobriety and the empathy of his character very well. Also, a word for Liam Hemsworth as Gale, Katniss' hunting friend. I didn't understand why he was picked to play Gale, but I did when I saw him on screen. He's not as seductive as the Gale in the novel. He's not as perfect-for-Katniss. He looks a little sleazy. On a pure aesthetic merit, Hemsworth makes sense.
There were minor hitches. Questionable choices rather than downright flaws. The CGI was the only real flaw. The flames in particular are so bad, you almost see a mouse cursor on the screen. Thank God it went easy on it. There's only one scene with fire where it gets overboard. The famous Pita-Katniss bread scene is presented as flashbacks, which is nice, but it looks like it happened two days ago. I would've chosen younger actors as it's supposed to have been years before. A few scenes were also badly choreographed, which broke the enthrallment this movie put me through for most of it. I would've chosen a different actor as Cato, things like that. It's safe to say though that with the money it's going to make, the sequels are going to be tighter.
I loved THE HUNGER GAMES, the movie. It reduces the teenage angst and love-triangle issue to a minimum and concentrates on building Katniss Everdeen as a commendable female heroine. The movie relies on Jennifer Lawrence's game a LOT and BOY does she deliver. She nails some of the key scenes in the novel hard and gives it a personal edge through non-verbal game. I doubt she will have trouble finding work ever again. I still think Peeta's kind of useless, but through Jennifer Lawrence's and Josh Hutcherson's nuanced play, I can finally see why Katniss is so hell-bent over keeping him close. I was scared it would turn out to be a glorified sequel to TWILIGHT, but what I have seen is an adaptation that rivals LORD OF THE RINGS in terms of production value and accuracy. Something that has the strength to wipe Bella Swan off the face of the Earth. Terrific movie. Strong female lead. Go see it. Now. Bring your kids too.
* Previous winner of The Hunger Games from their district
** The public can sponsor participants and send them items: food, medication, weapon, etc.