Hunger Games (2012)
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Wes Bently, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland.
Written by Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray and Gary Ross
Directed by Gary Ross
Let me preface this by explaining I am a big fan of Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy of books. I want to put that straight up front, because as much of a fan of this film I may be I cannot tell how this will play to someone uninitiated. There are parts of the film that rely heavily on the viewer’s knowledge of the books in the name of streamlining the story a bit to keep it moving at a solid pace. That said I may now proceed to gush over the things they did oh so well.
The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian alternate future where the nation of Panem is divided into 12 Districts, each of them ruled over by the extremely rich and powerful Capitol. 75 years prior to our setting there were 13 districts that all tried to revolt against the Capitol and failed. As a way of keeping the districts in check and dissuade any ideas of further rebellion, The Hunger Games were created. The Games pit two “tributes”, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18, from each district in a fight to the death where only one survivor is to be named victor. As we open the film it is the 74th Hunger Games and the day of the “Reaping” where the Capitol sends their representatives to pick the two tributes from each district for the games.
Our Heroine is 16 year old Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), a skilled hunter due to her frequent excursions into the forbidden zone to hunt wild animals to provide food for her mother and sister after the death of her father. Her best friend Gale (Hemsworth) often accompanies Katniss into the forbidden zone to provide for his family. Katniss has her name entered over 20 times for the reaping this year, Gale over 40. Katniss’ younger sister Primrose aka Prim (Willow Shields) has turned 12 and will be entered for the first time, and beyond all odds Prim’s name is the one chosen. Katniss, determined to protect Prim at all costs, volunteers to take her place. In the spot of the male tribute Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), another 16 year old classmate of Katniss’ is chosen. After a brief family visitation they are whisked aboard a train off to the Capital to prepare for the games. Along the way they meet their representative/publicist Effie Trinket (Banks) and former Hunger Games victor from District 12 and their mentor, the constantly drunk Haymitch Abernathy (Harrelson). Once arriving the tributes are scrubbed down and prepared for their exhibition to the masses of the Capitol. Katniss develops a special relationship with her designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz in a role changed drastically from the book) who helps her gain the “sponsors” desperately needed to survive. They are interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (Tucci, brilliant as usual) on live television the evening before the start of the games where Peeta drops a bombshell. After a tearful goodbye with Cinna, Katniss is thrust into the Games where all the rules are off and she truly is alone, or is she…
Director Ross does an excellent job at keeping a very brisk pace going because there is a lot of ground to cover here. Lawrence is pitch perfect as Katniss, though she looks much older than 16 and knowing this the filmmakers are very savvy to only mention her and Peeta’s age in passing just once allowing for some ambiguity with the viewers. Hemsworth has very little to do, and his character really doesn’t become a major player until the third book anyways, but Thor’s little brother proves he can emote well enough to get the character’s feelings across. Banks, Harrelson, Tucci, Sutherland (as President Snow), Bentley (Seneca Crane) and Toby Jones in a small role that will become much larger in the following films, perform extremely well, especially Tucci and Bentley. Alexander Ludwig comes off strong as the District 2 heavy Cato and Isabelle Furhman is phenomenally creepy and menacing as Clove.
There are some minor missteps, and I do mean minor, with the most glaring coming in the form of Peeta. I’m not sure the fault lies entirely with Hutcherson, as it may also have been the way director Ross had wanted it to be, but the movie Peeta is nowhere as engaging and personable as he is on the page. He is described as a pure charmer in front of a crowd and while we see glimpses of this they are small glimpses only. Also, Peeta’s character losses a lot of dialogue/screen time with the streamlining of the “love triangle” story within the movie, which may have been a factor. However, the decision to streamline this aspect of the story also helps the film tremendously. Also, as expected, some characters from the book and things are left out with the translation to the screen, but this was to be expected.
The biggest concern going in for most was would they play down the violence (they did, but it’s still effective) and ramp up the love story, targeting it directly to the “Twilight” crowd. I am VERY happy to say this is NOT the case. The Hunger Games manages to keep its grit and intensity and does not stray to the sappy melodrama permeated in the Twilight films. And while I have no idea why anybody wants Miss Bella Swan, let alone two suitors, I have no doubt why two males would be determined to win Katniss’ affection, in fact I wonder why there are not more.
In the end The Hunger Games the film is a great success, definitely worth your money. I will be more than happy to pay to see this again. Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to the first Blockbuster of 2012. And may the odds be ever in your favor.
Til Next Time
Movie Junkie TO