The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a good, solid film.

I’ll spare you another rehashing of the plot, as I’ve done so in an earlier post, and people know how I feel about comparing it to Battle Royale – that’s a simple, superficial comparison a best, especially seen in the context of all three books.

For fans of the books, and let’s be honest, that will be the driving force of the audience, they’ll get almost all of the moments they want.

I did. But, of course, having read the books, there were no real surprises in the story, so it allowed me to focus on all the other things that make up a film.

Hunger Games is Gary Ross’ third film as a director, having previously helmed Pleasantville, which I adored, and Seabiscuit.

He worked with series author Suzanne Collins on the screenplay to bring the first of the trilogy of worldwide bestsellers to the screen, and like I said, they’ve made a good, solid film.

There are things I loved, liked, and maybe a thing or two I might change, but maybe not.

First and foremost, let’s talk about Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. She is pitch perfect, in fact most of my favorite moments in the film, center around little tiny things in her performance. The way her voice threatens to break when she volunteers for the Games, her relationship with Rue, the salute in District 12, and the one she makes to District 11, but my favorite bar none, is when she’s getting ready to step into the tube that will deliver her to the arena. Right from the start of the scene, you can tell she’s just holding it together, and she is really, really scared, the performance starts in her eyes, but then spreads, so her body is just giving these little shakes and quivers of fear.

THAT is when she really had me. It had been a wonderful performance until that point, but that is when I truly believed she was Katniss and not just an actor on the screen.

I’ve spoken to a few people who felt she may be a little old for the role right now, but you know what, considering what her character will go through in the sequels, I think those events, and the events of this film, would make you look older than you are. So I was never worried about that.

And, in terms of weapons, I’ve always loved the bow. And she totally rocks it!

Jennifer Lawrence, who quite rightly earned an Oscar nomination for her role in Winter’s Bone, may never have to work again after this series of films is done. But I’m hoping that doesn’t stop her.

Josh Hutcherson is an actor who first came to my attention in the adorable film, Little Manhattan. Josh brings an earnestness to his characters and his take on Peeta Mellark is another extension of that.

He’s fun, he’s likable, and he knows his chances of surviving are next to none. But he’s going to do his damnedest to make sure that Katniss survives.

Peeta is played as an everyman who’s just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he’s just trying to hold onto who he is through all of it.

Josh was always popular with his fans, but I think this one will push him over the top, and the ladies adore him.

Sadly, Gale Hawthorne (played by Liam Hemsworth – Thor’s brother) is almost an non-entity in this film. He’s not given a lot to do, but glower unhappily as he watches the relationship develop between Katniss and Peeta during the broadcasts of the game.

Still, he’ll have more to do in the remaining films, so I commend Liam for taking the role, knowing he wouldn’t be up to much in this first act.

Katniss’ sister Prim, played by Willow Shields, breaks your heart with her tears over Katniss taking her place in the games.

Donald Sutherland is President Snow, and you can see the evil already at work, especially for those of us who know what lays ahead.

Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane, Toby Jones as Claudius, and Stanley Tucci as Caesar all make their moments and characters work. Lenny Kravitz as Cinna was great, and gives a nice little turn as Katniss’ personal designer.

And of course there’s Rue. This character, if miscast, would ruin some of the most emotional moments of the film, but happily Amandla Stenberg, was note perfect, cute, brash, funny, adorable.

You can’t help but like her.

Which is the point. Because you already know that can’t end well.

Katniss says it herself, twenty-four go in, but only one comes out.

So you know it’s coming, and if you’ve read the book, you even know when, but it’s still heartbreaking to watch the relationship grow to know it can only end badly.

Then, there’s Elizabeth Banks, who completely buried herself in the role of Effie Trinket. She’s completely unrecognizable, and is brilliant.

Then there’s Haymitch. This was the only character I wasn’t sure about the casting of. Nothing against Woody Harrelson at all, in my mind’s eye I always saw Haymitch as a bit of Brendan Gleeson type.

Still, for all that, there was a lot of bits with Haymitch that I did like, but I’ll be more interested to see how Woody plays him in the sequels.

One of the things I did love was the costume design, Katniss especially is dressed in full, strong colors in the Capital, and it serves as a brilliant counterpoint to the citizens. All of them dress colorfully, but all the colors are flat, drab, and lifeless. They’re all dead, not actually living, but living off of life, and the work of others… there’s a 99% vs the 1% argument in the story if you’re looking for it.

Some people have complained about the shaky camerawork of the film (which made me mad, cause some of these people were throwing laurels at the seizure inducing camera-work that permeates the Transformer movies), I liked it, especially the further I got into the film. But it’s also an emotional thing, the camerawork is almost a reflection of Katniss’ mood, when she’s sad, or calm, the camera is almost still, when she’s excited, fearful, filled with adrenaline, or tracker-jacker poison it’s more erratic.

The last thing I’ll talk about is the soundtrack/score.

Yes I have the Songs From District 12 and Beyond album, which I really like, but I’m looking forward to the score album being released on the 26th.

James Newton Howard’s score is gentle, and like a lot of the tracks on the District 12 album, has a rustic twang to it, that just works so well with the feel of the story and the film.

So, whether you’ve read the book or not, you’ll find the film solid entertainment, and you’ll be joining the throngs of us who are now anxiously awaiting the sequels, because after taking in $20 million with midnight showings alone, you know they’ll be kicking those into high gear!

Until then…

May the odds be ever in your favor…

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