Smell of Popcorn

film reviews & musings by Max Lalanne


Review of The Hunger Games (2012)

Posted by Max Lalanne on April 18, 2012

It’s so terribly exciting when a film adaptation of an already great book series turns out be be more satisfactory than you could hope, undoubtedly launching some fantastic movies while inspiring moviegoers to read some books at the same time. Harry Potter did that, Lord of the Rings did that, and, uhhh…that’s pretty much it. But now you can add The Hunger Games (2012) to that elite few, for this thrilling sci-fi adventure cinematically fulfilled all my expectations and added a few of its own.  I love Suzanne Collins’ orginal YA trilogy, and this is a masterful, top-notch transformation onto the silver screen like how it should be done. It’s terrific.

Katniss Everdeen, our strong and resilient heroine of The Hunger Games, is played to the note by Jennifer Lawrence, who exudes a restrained, careful air around her character while still being intensely captivating and physically tough enough to pull off this sort of acting this role required. Living in the impoverished District 12, which resembles a ramshackle and dirty village out in the boondocks, Katniss doesn’t have it easy, having to provide (via hunting, in case you didn’t know, she’s a killer shot when it comes to archery) for her little sister Prim (Willow Shields) and her mother, after the death of her miner-father. Oh, and let me explain, these dozen districts, built on the post-war ruins of Northern America, are all controlled by the glitzy Capitol. In a nifty futuristic and chilling twist on the classic Greek mythology story of Theseus and the Minotaur, in payment of past rebellions, the Capitor obliges that each year each district sends forth two “tributes”, all between the age of 12 and 18, to fight in the televised Hunger Games. Hunger Games? Oh, they’re just gladiatorial-style winner-takes-all survival competition taking place in a fabricated arena, with kids killing other kids. No worries.

Director Gary Ross sets  up all this preamble rather quickly and seemingly easily, introducing to us Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Katniss’ childhood friend, hunting partner, and current brooding and supportive boyfriend. But who cares about him – when we got Peeta Mellark! A baker’s son who’s chosen along with Katniss to represent District 12, Peeta’s played by Josh Hutcherson with a slightly exasperating – but really nice! –  gentleness that is kind of infuriating and very easy-going enjoyable at the same time, even if it differs from the character in the book ever so slightly. Peeta was, as you can say, dumbed down to a one-dimensional character who never seems to be scheming or plotting something nasty. Same thing happens to Gale, although we hardly see him in the film. (The filmmakers might have missed an opportunity to put a profitable Twilight-esque romance triangle on it, but who cares. This film goes beyond the typical teen romance flicks Hollywood leans toward, and guess what, it seems to be working for them.)

Indeed, after the story moves on the Capitol – brilliantly designed, props to the production designer – where Katniss and Peeta are prepped with the other tributes for the grueling competition, and all the even more grueling primping and publicity that accompanies it, we start to see that the filmmakers, for some reason or antoher, really dumbed down almost all of the supporting characters. Well, that’s not necesarily a bad thing, for the fantastic Lawrence alone could carry this project and still make it a hit. But, for instance, former-winner-turned-drunken-mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), even if he stumbles around with a glass of alchohol straight from the start, we see that he’s just a decent guy right off the start. The smooth and sleek stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), apparently has only unbridled goodness in his heart, no hint of a second agenda or even some mystery hovering around his head. Why? That’s part one of my few gripes with The Hunger Games, part two is the relentless Bourne-esque shaky-camera movement. Producers, pray tell the cinematographer to use the tripod more often.

The kid-on-kid violence that occupies most of the second half of the film worried many a skeptic, and I was one of them. What was so morbidly gripping and hard-to-tear-away-from in the book, how does that translate to the big screen accompanied by a PG-13 rating? Terrifically well, I’m proud to say. Once the Hunger Games start, the brutal killings that erupt instantly as the tributes fight one another for supplies and safety aren’t cowardly avoided, but neither are they graphically and uneccesarily shoven in your face. As Katniss (and Peeta, to some degree) avoids much of the bloodshed and escapes to the woods, her natural instincts kick in as she tries to avoid the other tributes and survive in this unfamilair environment. I should mention, the arena is totally controlled by the Gamemakers, head of which is Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), a sinisterly slick guy with neat sideburns.  Of course, Seneca has his own, much more dangerous master, President Snow (Donald Sutherland), but for now he gets to enjoy being the master and commander of his own world. With awesome touch-screen holographic technology, whenever they choose, the Gamemakers can insert a raging fire here, observe tributes moving like pins on a Google Map, or just make giant pitbull-like monstrosities pop up and start growling. Really cool stuff.

Pardon me if I got carried away a little bit, but the fact of seeing The Hunger Games after having thoroughly enjoyed the book does that to me and probably will – or does already – to you too. It’s a pulse-pounding, solidly built and just plain exciting film that will undoubtedly stand as one of the year’s best. It’s also not often in my cinema-watching experience that I smile in relief and really, happiness, as I did like when smooth-talking, well-oiled, and blue-haired talk-show host Caesar Flickerman (an almost unrecognizable Stanely Tucci) was introduced, spinning around in his chair while some funky music plays. Come on, you know I had to put him in somewhere, Caesar was so enjoyable and fun to watch. In short, all I can say is pertaining to the sequel, Catching Fire – and it is, may the odds be ever in your favor, because you’re going to need it to top this first entry into the hopefully consistent series. And Happy Hunger Games.

My Rating: 4 1/2 Stars (Out of 5)


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