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Rousing Science Fiction

Posted : 2 years, 5 months ago on 24 March 2012 09:23

Gary Ross' fourth feature portrays young adult writer Suzanne Collins' vision of the future. But this future does not bring flying cars, super-advanced robots or time travel. Instead it brings 'The Hunger Games,' a horrific celebration of totalitarianism and fear where twenty-four boys and girls (between the ages of twelve and eighteen) from twelve districts are brought to a large arena to fight to the death.

Sounds an awful lot like "Battle Royale," a 2000 Japanese film with a similar premise. However, "The Hunger Games" exceeds in acting, character development, and substance over what was somewhat an underdeveloped bloodbath (albeit a creative one.) Although this film pushes the PG-13 rating it has nowhere near the level of violence as "Battle Royale" and should be okay for kids over a certain age.

The heart of this story is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence,) who is forced to care for her beloved younger sister Primrose (talented newcomer Willow Shields) when her father gets blown up in a mining explosion and her mother falls into a deep depression. Her back-story bears some similarities to Lawrence's role in the rural thriller "Winter's Bone" back in 2000, but "The Hunger Games" is glossier, more action-packed, and goes in a completely different direction.

This year's Hunger Games, Katniss knows that her sensitive twelve-year-old sister, due to her age has been placed in the drawing only a few times and statistically has a smaller chance of getting picked. To her horror, however, Primrose is drawn, and Katniss, knowing her sister doesn't stand a chance, volunteers to fight in her place.

After leaving her potential love interest Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and placing Primrose in the questionable care of her mother, Katniss heads by train to the capital, where she is introduced briefly to a luxurious lifestyle before being offered up in the arena like a sheep for the slaughter. The other kid from her district, Peeta Mellark, has harbored a crush on her for many years, which makes the circumstances of the situation even harder.

Jennifer Lawrence is, at twenty-one, five years too old for the role, but her talent shines through, and her Katniss is a character to be appriciated. Her relationship with Peeta moved a little quicker than I would have liked, as after a crucial plot development they are hanging over each other like lovesick puppy dogs. Their friendship is more ambiguous and conflicted in the book as well.

The other actors are good, including Stanley Tucci, Amanda Stenberg, and Woody Harrelson as drunken former child contestant Haymitch Abernathy. Tucci (despite not having as juicy a role as he did in "The Lovely Bones," is good, and his portrayal of gaudy, grinning talk-show host Caesar Flickerman is a disturbingly on-target depiction of the fakeness and pomp and circumstance of reality TV.

The Muttations were well done. One of my main concerns about the movie adaptation was that they wouldn't be able to translate them onto the screen without becoming corny, and although they were not as horrifying as they were in the book (functioning instead as vicious, kinda-cute mastiff-looking creatures,) the special effects people pulled them off.

"The Hunger Games" is very much worth a ticket to the theater, although I would not recommend it to young or sensitive children. It is exciting, rousing science fiction with a message, and Katniss is a strong character worth rooting for.

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The Hunger Games review

Posted : 2 years, 5 months ago on 19 March 2012 02:29

Too often when it comes to big screen adaptations of beloved best-selling novels, we spend the bulk of a review pointing out all of the places the filmmaker went wrong. With The Hunger Games, it’s a distinct pleasure to sing about all of the places the masterful translation went right.

As directed by Gary Ross -- with the clear intention of launching a franchise -- Games brings to life Suzanne Collins’ minimalistic sci-fi survival epic by hewing closely to the author’s illustrative text. Dedicated readers won’t need a plot synopsis, yet newcomers should know the basics. In a futuristic society, war has fractured our society. The “Haves” live in The Capitol, a gaudy, hedonistic Gomorrah nestled somewhere in the Rockies. The “Have Nots” congregate in 12 different Districts, each characterized by their environmental region and populace. And every year, as a means of imposing its will on the Districts, the Capitol forces children chosen by lottery to compete in The Hunger Games, a physical battle to the death.

Enter our hero, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a headstrong and fiercely independent hunter from the impoverished District 12 whose skill with a bow and arrow helps her to provide for her emotionally distraught mother (Paula Malcomson) and younger sister, Prim (Willow Shields). On the day of the Reaping, when contestants are selected to participate in the Games, Katniss hears her sister’s name called by the garish Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) … then boldly steps forward and demands to fight in her sibling’s place.

Ross wins the bulk of his own production battle in the casting department, matching the right talent with Collins’ well-sketched roles. Everything starts with Lawrence, and she is absolutely perfect as Katniss. She is gorgeous enough to flourish during the pageantry stages of the Games, yet naturalistic enough to convince us that this scrappy survivor can do more than persevere in the arena. Early scenes set in the rural District 12 actually call to mind Lawrence’s Oscar-nominated performance as the similarly feisty Ree in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone. Yet unlike Ree, Katniss is required to undergo several transformations as she struggles to survive the sadistic Truman-Show-meets-The-Running-Man reality competition the Capitol forces on her and the other competitors (known as Tributes). And Lawrence handles each stage with the maturity and versatility we’ve grown to expect from this accomplished performer.

Her dedication spreads throughout the ensemble, which nails each beat as Games marches through Collins’ vivid plot. Josh Hutcherson’s quiet, durable charisma serves him well as Peeta Mellark, District 12’s other Tribute who’s hiding a wealth of secrets. Banks’ gift for broad comedy underlines Effie’s unfortunate grotesqueness, while Woody Harrelson’s hedonistic off-screen reputation brings a needed edge to Haymitch Abernathy, a Games survivor brought in to mentor Katniss and Peeta. And if there could be an Oscar for “Best Scene Stealer,” Stanley Tucci would be the frontrunner after his calculatedly overblown turn as color commentator Caesar Flickerman.

But casting’s only half the story. Ross's decision to film The Hunger Games with docu-drama techniques rite an indie realism for this obvious sci-fi fable that brilliantly plays into the tensions and hostilities of the narrative. I’m convinced this world exists, somewhere, from the ramshackle hovels of District 12 to the dense killing field that is the arena. Solid production values bolster the underlying messages and radical ideas laced through Collins’ work. President Snow (Donald Sutherland, teased for future installments) talks to Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) about giving the population hope, if only so that they can be beaten and crushed back into submission. But Katniss’ efforts to survive, her strength to endure, are traits that audiences of all ages will find themselves celebrating ... even as they support the bloody overthrowing of a corrupt government.

But that’s for later. Readers know the story continues in Catching Fire, and Lionsgate plans to get the proverbial band back together – and soon – once it’s determined that a broad audience buys into the Games and would like to see more. I don’t think that will be a problem. Ross and crew succeed in converting Collins’ best-selling text to the screen, and fans should reward their efforts. When it comes to The Hunger Games, the odds are ever in this film’s favor.

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