Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hunger Games is Catching Fire

With the Harry Potter movie series finally concluded and the ever-popular Twilight Saga coming to an end this year, moviegoers have been ready for the “next big thing,” and The Hunger Games appears to be it.  After a four weeks run at the top of the box office one could say that it's is definitely catching fire with the public.

The Hunger Games is set in a post-revolutionary future where North America, now Panem, has been divided into 12 Districts. The Districts are being punished by the government for their insurrection by each having to give up two children as “tributes” every year to participate in a nationally broadcast fight-to-the-death match, the winner of which garners personal fame and a year’s worth of extra supplies and food for the people of their district.  The heroine of the story, Katniss Everdeen, steps in to take the place of her younger sister, Primrose, as a District 12 tribute when the annual “reaping” of youngsters takes place. Katniss is then whisked away to the Capitol, along with Peeta Mellark, a fellow tribute and insecure young baker who has a crush on her, to try to win the games for their district.

Having read the three Hunger Games books by Suzanne Collins, I was looking forward to the first movie of a four-part series with anticipation as well as hesitation.  I wondered how the 350-page book with so much action and character drama could be condensed into a single film, and I also worried that it could end up like the first Twilight movie, which (how can I say this without risking a rain of hate from mega-Twilight fans) was pretty awful (though after that they did get better (o: - don’t hurt me). 

My concerns were mostly unfounded as, to my joy and relief, the movie lived up to my expectations in most areas. The writers managed to keep the story line intact and portray the poverty of District 12 in comparison to the lavish lifestyles of the Capitol dwellers.  I loved the ridiculous Capitol clothing in comparison to the sad District 12 hand-me-downs, and I was particularly impressed by the abundance of food shown in many scenes in the Capitol, which provides a stark contrast to the few squirrels Katniss would illegally bag and trade to help keep her family from starving. 

The actors chosen for this film were stellar in my opinion. Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta provide outstanding performances and play off each other beautifully.  It’s easy to fall in love with them both and feel torn about what could happen if they end up the only ones lift alive in the game.  Add to that the brilliant performances of Woody Harrelson as drunken jerk and former game winner Haymitch Abernathy, Donald Sutherland as the very scary President, as well as Lenny Kravitz (Who knew he could act?), Stanley Tucci, Liem Hemsworth and Elizabeth Banks, and you have a mix of talent that is hard to beat.

Even though I’ve heard some complaints from others, I didn’t really mind the shaky camera movement. Actually I thought it was clever and gave a feel of being right there with Katniss. It also allowed them to cut back on the graphic depiction of the killing of kids, which could have been a bit much for some. Another thing I thought was clever was the way that what Katniss was thinking during the games was portrayed through the actions and interactions of the production crew, the Head Gamemaker, and Haymitch. It was a successful device for bringing the audience into her head as she struggled to stay alive and make sense of what was happening around her.

As much as I enjoyed the movie I was disappointed in the lack of development of the relationship between District 12 Stylist, Cinna, and Katniss.  It’s such an important part of the full story arc that I felt like people who hadn’t read the book wouldn’t get how important this relationship is to the story.  If it hadn’t been for that “moment” between the two of them, just before she is lifted up into the arena, I would have been really frustrated by this.

I also found myself wishing for better development of the characters of the other tributes. While it would have been impossible to establish relationships with all of the other 22 tributes in the short space of a movie, just a little more time spent on the key players would have boosted the impact of the deaths of each, especially since the camera shots were done in a way that eliminated a lot of the blood and gore described in the book.  Thank goodness some time was spent on the relationship between Rue and Katniss before Rue’s death.  Otherwise many might have missed the true horror of children brutally killing each other. 

Having said all that, as I watched the movie after reading the book, I wasn’t too put off by the fact that relationships, like those between Cinna and Katniss or between the tributes, wasn’t fully covered.  I felt more like an insider who knew things that those in the audience who hadn’t read the book might not know. 

I highly recommend The Hunger Games, if you haven’t already been to the theater to see it. This is definitely a movie I would go too the theater to see a second, or maybe even a third time. 

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