Monday, March 26, 2012

Movie Review : The Hunger Games (2012)


Country:


USA

Recognizable Faces:


Jennifer Lawrence
Josh Hutcherson
Liam Hemsworth
Woody Harrelson
Elizabeth Banks
Stanley Tucci
Lenny Kravitz
Donald Sutherland

Directed By:


Gary Ross



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.


SCORE: 88%


* Previous winner of The Hunger Games from their district

** The public can sponsor participants and send them items: food, medication, weapon, etc.

8 comments:

  1. YES! Yes yes yes. I totally agree with you on all counts. I had mixed feelings about the book: the poorly-attempted love triangle, the buried message about violence in the media, the hackneyed plot lines especially in the 2nd and 3rd books, etc.
    The movie was honestly 100 times better than the book. I loved the costume and production design in the capitol and Stanley Tucci was, as ever, absolutely perfect. I adore him, and I couldn't have wished for a better Katniss than Jennifer Lawrence.
    Here's my big issue, though. When I read the books, I wondered whether the target audience was catching Suzanne Collins' point about the thin line between violence as entertainment and violence in war. I suspected that it was lost on most readers, and judging by the APPLAUSE in the theater when tributes killed each other, I was right. People DON'T get it, and that disturbs me. I sat in a huge theater, surrounded by 100 teenagers who clapped and cheered while watching teenagers kill each other onscreen. It was extremely disturbing.
    BUT I thought the movie was very, very well done. I'm eager to watch the next installments and delighted at the idea that Katniss has the power to finally usurp Bella.
    (And yeah, those were SO much cooler in my imagination.)

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  2. Um, the *flames* were better in my imagination.

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  3. Your comment touches to a very interesting problematic, Christina. Something that has been bothering me about YA fiction for a while. Get in a discussion about YA with one of its hardcore readers and he will end up getting defensive, saying stuff like: "YA saves and that its tremendous that kids have books for them to read and that they wish they had such life-affirming material at their age.

    That's where I disagree. A teenager is a very confused child in a body that's mutating, trying to adapt to a constantly changing life. If I was sixteen...hell, if I was twenty years old, I would've applauded at the deaths. Because that's what young minds see in these movies. That's why I'm very worried when there is wrist-cutting YA books reaching the market. They are written by adults that want to come to term with their own issues...and mostly read by adults who want to come to term with their own issues.

    Do I think THE HUNGER GAMES is a great story? Yes, especially adapted on screen. Do I think Katniss Everdeen is a great role model for young girls? You bet. She's awesome and the "preachiness factor" is about zero, here. She just wants to survive and maintain a little normalcy in her life, take care of her loved ones. I can get behind that all day long. I'll trust the character to crawl her way inside a generation's mind and repair the damage Bella Swan has done. The kids applause the violence now, but they will grow up with Katniss Everdeen and have her as a point of reference. The way THE HUNGER GAMES was adapted was borderline YA (a lot less than the novel), I see it as an equivalent to the LOTR extravaganza, but I also see it as having tremendous success because it's aiming at such a large public.

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  4. I think I'm somewhere in the middle of OMG amazing and the non book fans that thought it was lacking something. I really enjoyed it but I think that was because I knew all the back-story. Without the book in my mind, things like the bread scene didn't have any impact, the poor weren't starving (was Rue's dad even overweight?) so the circumstances around the games weren't all that clear and some of the bonds in the arena weren't defined as well as in the book because it's hard to do when they don't talk much. Which I liked because it kept as much as it could to the first person narrative of the book. But I still, personally, prefer the book.

    Yes to Cato's casting, he looked too much of a pretty, popular boy and I had trouble placing him as the thug... Not saying thugs are never pretty, but not usually in fiction ;)

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  5. I love what they did to the bread scene. It's a flashback, but it has a huge importance for both of them. I liked how they both acknowledge it. Only thing I would've done is to cast younger actors to play it, because the way it was done, it didn't carry the weight of all these years, that haunting. But I'm glad they didn't milk it.

    As for the starving crowd, I'm not sure whether they were meant to be portrayed as starving of just as living in rugged condition. They had to pull back to farming and trading in order to survive.

    Cato's actor delivered the lines very well when it was important, but I figured someone less "beautiful". Some tougher looking killing machine. He looked a little out of place with the other actors.

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  6. I think she showed what she was capable of in Winters Bone, so not surprised she's good in the role.

    No genetically mutated wolf-human hybrids at the end of the story?

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  7. They were the subtext to my CGI comment ;)

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  8. Sounds good! I've just finished the books and am looking forward to giving the movies a try. I'm glad to hear they really make the most of the source text - I've been a bit undecided whether to catch the film at the cinema or wait for the DVD, but after your review I think I'll be shelling out for some front row seats!

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