Review: THE HUNGER GAMES

Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)

             The film adaptation of author Suzanne Collins’ celebrated novel has arrived in theaters and it seems that most fans are rejoicing.  As with all other novel to film adaptations whose source material has a dedicated fan base, I’m sure there will be detractors grumbling that something was left out, glossed over, or inaccurate.  And as with most of these recent film adaptations (HARRY POTTER, TWILIGHT), I have not made the time to read the books.  For better or worse, film and an unrelated day job occupies my time, so I don’t have the leisure time I once had to pick up a book and finish it.  Since this latest literature phenomenon has been given the cinematic treatment, I have the opportunity to review, analyze it, and share my opinion–an opinion from an uninitiated perspective.

             Set in the future, Collins’ story takes her audience to a world where North America has been reorganized into the nation of Panem and further divided into twelve districts.  For over seventy years, the Capitol of Panem has ruled “peacefully” after a costly and bloody revolution tore the land apart.  As part of a treaty among the districts, the government invented the Hunger Games.  Annually, a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen from every district in a lottery to participate in this televised event.  Those chosen are taken to the capitol and placed in an arena where they must fight to the death until one survives.  In district 12, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers for the event to protect her little sister Primrose (Willow Shields) who was chosen in the lottery.  She and male candidate Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) travel by train to the capitol where they begin training and preparation with chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), and stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz).  Katniss and Peeta bond during this time, only to realize that at some point they may have to turn on each other to survive and win.

             I must admit that I really got into this story.  I bought the whole premise– hook, line, and sinker.  Writers Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray really impressed me with the development of the plot and characters.  The movie does drag in some parts.  I felt the 142 minute length of the film to be too much and unnecessary.  Ross, who also directed, and his crew do some excellent work creating this vision of this dystopian world where the poor and drab district 12 appears in polar opposite contrast to the hyper-stylized, exaggerated, and color rich look of the capitol and its decadent residents.   In the capitol, it seems as if the 1980s exploded and the stylists have taken it even blindingly further.  My biggest annoyance with the film comes from the poorly filmed action sequences by cinematographer Tom Stern.  The chaotic, oft-zoomed in, blurry and shaky camera work, during what should have been some of the more thrilling sequences, frustrated me as the action was usually indecipherable.  The filmmakers may have used this technique to secure a PG-13 rating; however, this irritated me to no end.  I felt like I was watching another found footage picture, a genre of which I am not a huge fan.  The sloppy cinematography really took me out of several intense moments.  Thankfully, the writing and the acting kept me engaged in the film.

             The casting director assembled an incredible cast for this film.  The lovely and talented Jennifer Lawrence excellently portrays the protagonist Katniss.  She exudes a strong and quiet calm, but also shows the right amount of vulnerability, especially when Katniss is out of her element, as a television celebrity.  Josh Hutcherson also shines as the real underdog of the games and the movie.  I especially loved the colorful characters running the games, such as Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, the perfectly cast Woody Harrelson as one time games winner Haymitch Abernathy, the always wonderful Stanley Tucci as host and analyst Caesar Flickerman, and Donald Sutherland as the snide and snobby President Snow.  I enjoyed seeing Toby Jones as the co-host Claudius Templesmith, but sadly has very few lines and scenes in the movie.  I am guessing that much of his screen time ended up on the cutting room floor.

             This brings me back to the editing choices made for this movie.  I believe that some of the wrong choices were made in the cutting of this film.  Parts of the picture that dragged and lingered on too long should have been trimmed and this would have allowed for more entertaining moments by some of the more interesting characters to take its place. This and the poor cinematography prevent me from giving this film a higher rating.  I seriously hope that in the following installments, the directors and cinematographers make better choices in how they film the action sequences.  I am certain that I am not the only one who feels this way.  Audiences want to enjoy the thrills and excitement, but cannot fully appreciate it if they have no clue as to what is happening.  Otherwise, besides having a built-in fan base, this film franchise should continue to succeed as they apparently have a winning story and engaging characters.  It is not a particularly original story and plot; however, it is a highly relevant one in this day and age where reality television dominates the airwaves.

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