Friday, March 23, 2012

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

After having read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins a few months ago, I began to eagerly await the movie along with everyone else. I was drawn to the narrative that Collins had created and the way readers are able to empathize with Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist, as she navigates her way through her life as a citizen of Panem: from District 12, to the Capitol, and finally into the Arena. Panem, the former North America, has fallen into a post-nuclear, dystopian society in which a totalitarian government has replaced the democracy that once existed. The Capitol is surrounded by twelve outlying districts, each of which provides material goods which are in turn used by the Capitol to maintain its standing as a marvel of technological and cultural wonder. In order to keep stability and prevent uprisings in the districts, 74 years before the action of the book/movie takes place, a treaty was signed which instituted a "pageant" that would ultimately prove that The Capitol is still superior to the districts in every way: each district would send two young people into an arena to fight to the death in The Hunger Games. A total of 24 teenagers enter the arena, but only one will emerge victorious.

In The Hunger Games book, readers see the action of the story, the world that Collins has created, and only know motivations through the eyes of Katniss. The challenge for Gary Ross was to take this first person perspective and open it up into the third person. Not only does the audience get to experience The Games with Katniss, but there are moments when the motivations and action of people in The Capitol are revealed. There are also scenes which link The Hunger Games to its sequel Catching Fire and I think that it will help with continuity and fluidity between both movies. This change in perspective only caused small problems which are apparent to those who have read the book, but over all, I believe it was really well done.

The casting for the film was spot on. Jennifer Lawrence embodies the strong Katniss, who has been forced to grow up so quickly following the death of her father in the coalmines of District 12. From the first moment the audience sees her, she is Katniss, singing to Prim to ease her fears, hunting in the lush forest beyond the electric fence. Lawrence gave a commanding performance in this movie, showing great depth and range of emotion. Liam Hemsworth, who plays Gale, does not figure as prominent in the first of the series, though more of him is seen in Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I thought that Peeta was well cast in Josh Hutcherson. He was able to capture Peeta's charm and simultaneously show his vulnerability. Even the secondary casting was great. Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket was absolutely marvelous. She captured her perfectly. In my opinion, however, the absolute best casting of the entire film was Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman. The blue hair, white teeth, and blue matching suit was spot on with what I had envisioned. I think the only difference I had in my mental casting was President Snow. While I believe that Donald Sutherland is an amazing actor, he is not who I had pictured. I also do not feel that he was quite menacing enough or exhibited the subtle cruelty of The Capitol.

The film is visually amazing. Gary Ross was able to take the text by Collins and from it build Panem, completely blowing me away. The visual effects of the train which takes the tributes to the Capitol, the looming city rising into view as they approach, and even the added challenges that the tributes face in the Arena were all incredibly integrated into the live action footage. At the very beginning of the film, when the audience sees District 12 for the first time, I gasped at how absolutely devastating and bleak it truly was. The district, known for its production of coal, was formerly known as the Appalachian region of North America. From the clapboard houses to the plain, homemade dress, this vision of District 12 looked like images of Appalachia from the 1930s. It looked like Eastern Kentucky, my home. I was in awe, and still am. Even the Peacekeepers, soldiers from The Capitol sent to ensure order in the districts, fit what I'd envisioned. I was absolutely blown away.

Aside from a few story issues in translating the novel to the big screen, I was incredibly impressed by The Hunger Games. I highly recommend everyone both see the film and read the books. I can't wait until Catching Fire comes out! I definitely see this being the next big film franchise, following Harry Potter and Twilight.

4/5 stars!

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