“The Hunger Games” – Review by Daniel Rester

The Hunger Games is the latest in “book-to-film events” at the cinema. It is based on the young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, which has gained a fervent following since its 2008 release. Going into the movie, I had not personally read the book, and only new of the basic premise of the story. Leaving the theater, however, I can now understand the hype surrounding Collin’s work, as her source material has made for a killer film.

Games takes place in the future in a land called Panem (previously North America). The Capitol is an advanced city in Panem, and controls the twelve districts that surround it. Every year, a boy and a girl (aged between 12 and 18) are chosen from each district by lottery to compete in The Hunger Games, a televised battle in which only one person comes out alive—in order to provide sacrifice and entertainment for The Capitol. The story of Games essentially follows Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, two sixteen-year-olds from District 12, as they prepare for and take part in the battle. Everdeen volunteers to be a part of the Games in the film, switching places with her younger sister in order to save her.

From beginning to end, Jennifer Lawrence owns the film as Everdeen. Lawrence really makes Everdeen a strong-willed heroine to root for in the modern age of cinema, giving a magnetic performance which brings out both the toughness and emotionality of the character. Josh Hutcherson, as Mellark, is impressive too, though his character isn’t nearly as deep as Lawrence’s. The two also share an ample amount of chemistry, as their characters must contend with the image of being “star-crossed lovers”—though they soon find that they may in fact share feelings. Caught up in this “love” is Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, a close friend of Everdeen’s from District 12. Though I enjoyed all three of these characters, the possible love-triangle between all of them feels weakly defined—and was probably stronger on the page if it did exist (which seems highly likely).

The supporting cast includes Woody Harrelson (as a has-been Hunger Games champion, and now the trainer of Everdeen and Mellark), Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, and Stanley Tucci. All of these older actors give satisfying performances (especially Harrelson), but the younger players are who truly stand out (though mostly Lawrence and Hutcherson above all). The cast as a whole is just superb.

Gary Ross directed the adaptation of Games. Though the film is nearly two-and-a-half hours long, Ross manages to establish a swift pace that only tip-toes into slow patches a couple of times. He also does well at crafting the look of the adaptation, excellently juxtaposing The Capitol (rich and colorful) and District 12 (dank and ugly). The director (who co-wrote the script with Collins and Billy Ray) also does a fine job at exploring the themes of Collins’ novel, which include starvation, poverty, and the effects of uprisings and war. Ross does rely on shaky-cam and up-close-and-personal techniques a bit too often (seeming less interested in medium and long shots) during the action scenes, but he still manages to keep everything both coherent and exciting—providing style to the story display, but never overpowering Collin’s story with his methods. Ross only seems to stumble a little in finding ways of showing the intense deaths of the young fighters, as such moments aren’t always easily displayed with a PG-13 rating.

The production values of Games are first-rate, with the art direction-set decoration and costumes (especially Bank’s outfits) immensely aiding Ross’ vision of Collin’s novel. The music score by T-Bone Burnett and James Newton Howard and the sound editing/mixing also provide a lot to the overall atmosphere of the movie. Finally, the use of CGI effects is excellent, aiding in the thrills and style in key scenes without ever overpowering whatever else may be on the screen at the time (such as the interesting use of fire with a costume in an early scene).

The feeble love triangle, the occasional tameness applied with the PG-13 rating, and the denouement of the movie (which feels like an impotent, quick wrap-up) are the only quibbles I have with Games. Lawrence is the dominant aspect of the film, but almost everything (and everyone) else makes for high entertainment as well. In the end, Games is a really good film that almost reaches greatness—though it is still one of my favorite films from 2012 so far. Though I may not have been on the hype train before seeing the movie, I definitely am now.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars.

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