Title: The Hunger Games
Did You Finally Read The Book? Yes, but only because I reached a natural stopping point in my revisiting of Judy Blume's canon.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film Three-and-a-half nightlock berries out of five.
Tagline: "The World Will Be Watching."
Better Tagline: "Who Knew Seeing Children Murder Each Other Would Be So Darn Entertaining?""
Brief Plot Synopsis: Coal miner's daughter travels to the big city, fights to the death against fellow teens.
How Does This Stack Up Against Twilight? Unlike those "vampire" movies, I never felt the urge to sleep/vomit/kill myself once. How's that for a ringing endorsement?
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Is there anyone who seriously doesn't know what this movie's about? Fine: in a grim future North America called Panem, the Capitol keeps the citizens in line by conducting an annual battle to the death between 24 tributes chosen from the 12 Districts. 16-year old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers in place of her younger sister Primrose and is whisked away to the Capitol - along with fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). In a very short time, she must win over potential sponsors and prepare herself for combat against her fellow tributes, even as she comes to grips with Peeta's feelings for her and how they can potentially help her win.
"Critical" Analysis: After months of anticipation (and about 500 Jennifer Lawrence magazine covers), the big screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins' bestseller finally hits theaters. Now that the Harry Potter movies are finished and the Twilight franchise is winding down, hopes are high that Collins' trilogy will step up and take their place as the next youthful book-to-movie phenomenon.
And with thousands of opening weekend screenings already sold out, that's pretty much guaranteed. The screening I attended was notable primarily because it's one of the only times in recent memory where almost everyone in the audience shut their pieholes for the film's entirety.
Granted, anecdotal evidence is pointless. Similarly, I'm not going to dwell on comparisons to the book beyond saying the movie is mostly better, tightening up the narrative (less fixation on fashion, cutting the chaff from the actual Games sequence) and keeping the pace fairly brisk, even at almost two-and-a-half hours (more book-related commentary can be found here).
Collins' tenuous storytelling occasionally threatens to derail things, however. The way the whole concept of the Hunger Games is laid out there still doesn't sit right: so, 75 years ago the Districts rose up in rebellion and were stomped down by the Capitol, wiping one of them (13) off the map as punishment? The fact that the Capitol can erase the existence of an entire territory isn't intimidating enough, they still have to conduct these games to cow the population? Okay.
It's also a bit much to think the Capitol - half Nuremberg rally, half Fashion Week on PCP - is this deadly efficient cabal coordinating the Games and repressing the rest of Panem, but is so gullible its populace can be taken in by a couple of teenagers posing as lovebirds at the prompting of their alcoholic mentor.
So it's fortunate that director Gary Ross (who co-wrote with Collins and Billy Ray) landed the talent he did. Lawrence is fresh off her Oscar nominated performance in Winter's Bone (another story about an Appalachian girl trying to save her family), and joins fellow nominees Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman) and Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), both of whom make the most of their roles. Hell, after seeing Harrlson's performance, it's almost impossible to imagine anyone else playing Haymitch.
And how old is Lenny Kravitz (Cinna)? He must bathe in the blood of young Hendrix knockoffs.
One can't avoid addressing the violence in the film. Lest we forget, the goal of the Games is to be the last one standing among 24 contestants. Ross sidesteps the pitfalls of showing kids getting butchered by...not really showing it, using shaky-cam and quick cuts to avoid putting many of the kills onscreen. Hey. we can't let a pesky thing like adolescents getting their necks snapped jeopardize our lucrative PG-13 rating, can we?
If you're a fan of the books, you probably won't be disappointed. But if you aren't, and you can get past the premise -- even having Donald Sutherland (as President Snow) explain it to his head Gamemaster Seneca (a character
not found barely mentioned in the book) doesn't sell it - you'll be in for an enjoyable experience, buoyed by stronger than expected acting and action that, once it finally kicks in, is fairly gripping.
The Hunger Games is in theaters today. Hope you already got your tickets.
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