Monday, 9 April 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, 2012
Directed by Gary Ross

By now I'm sure you're all familiar with what 'The Hunger Games' is all about. I'll break it down briefly for those who don't know. In the ruins of North America, now named Panem, there are 12 districts, each living in poverty and oppressed by the Capitol, a spoiled city. And to reaffirm their control, they hold, annually, something called the Hunger Games, where a one boy and one girl from each district, between the ages of 12 and 18 must fight to the death in an arena, until only one stands. The winner is awarded fame, wealth, and safety. Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12. When her little sister is plucked from the bowl of names to be a tribute, Katniss volunteers in her place. A boy her age named Peeta is also selected, in which she has ties to. And the Hunger Games begin.

I know, this review is a couple weeks late. I had originally planned to see it the Saturday after it opened, with a bunch of friends. We'd pre-ordered tickets and everything, but I got the stomach flu the morning of, and just haven't had time to see it since. Finally, 2 weeks later, I've seen in! I picked up the first book after the urging of my friend around a year ago, during the very early stages of casting. The books weren't a huge deal yet, but it was picking up steam. I read them all pretty quick, and while I wasn't awestruck with the books, they were good reads with a strong message, and knew they would translate to screen a lot better than most things.

 First, let me just say all the performances, I thought, were pretty spot on. A lot of people had reservations about Jennifer Lawrence being too sexy, and Josh Hutcherson being too young, or just not what they'd imagined at all. But getting Jennifer Lawrence on as Katniss was a really great move. She's an Oscar nominated actress, and this role is quite similar in nature to Ree, the character she played in Winter's Bone, in which she was nominated. She really embodied Katniss in every way and gave such a real and gritty performance. She had Katniss's strength, but was also able to embody her vulnerability in a real way, and was able to find the balance between that and her strength and stubbornness, which, I'd imagine, is quite tricky. Jenn is a really diverse actress. She had a small but cute role in last year's Like Crazy, she played the sexy and mysterious Raven/Mystique in X-Men: First Class, and debuted in Winter's Bone. Jenn has such promise to be a really great actress, and she doesn't take it easy in this role. She pours a lot of emotion into her character, and draws back enough when needed to draw back. She gives Katniss strength and a ruthlessness. But you can still remember she's just a teenage girl, who has a family to look after. She's not the tough person she appears to be, and Jenn really captures this all.

The supporting cast was great too. Josh Hutcherson was great as Peeta. What I really appreciated about his performance was the subtleties he brought to Peeta. The smiles, and the stolen glances, that you knew he bought every word Katniss said, and that he's really in love with her, and it's not a game to him. He was able to make me feel for his character in a way I hadn't in the book. He made me realize what a tragic character Peeta is, constantly getting the rotten end of the stick. Having an undying and loyal love for Katniss, and not realizing until he's head over heels that it was just a game for her. While he didn't give a heart-stopping performance, he did give a nuanced one, and was quite good if you were really paying attention.

Such as this moment here. Just the way he looks at her, and he just loves her, you can tell. Just the one little glance (and tons more in this scene and throughout the film) sold me. And his reaction to being picked to the Games was great too. Just mouth half-open, hardly believing, and in shock, and even crying. I feel like this is an unpopular opinion since I keep reading people thought his performance was mediocre, but I felt like he really understood his character. It wasn't perfect, nor was it the best in the movie, but he really captured who Peeta is and what he's about. For that I applaud him.

 There are plenty of fun performances by various well known actors. Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci gave my favourite supporting performances in the film. Harrelson as the drunken, harsh mentor of the 2 District 12 tributes gave a great performance. He was funny, he was a jerk, and then you saw the side of him where he really cared. And Stanley Tucci, you could tell he was really having fun with his part. The faces he made, his laughter, just the way he carried himself, it was such a fun performance to watch. Other fun supporting actors included Elizabeth Banks as the cooky and colourful Effie, Donald Sutherland as President Snow, Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane and Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith.

The pacing of the movie, I found, to be balanced quite well. I had wondered how long they would spend on the preparations before the Games. The training and all that. I felt they kept in a good amount. It was long enough that you got the picture, and got enough information about the tributes, and about Haymitch and Peeta, that you needed to know before the Games. It was a good chunk, but it never overstayed its welcome. It was a large chunk in the book, and was a large chunk in the film. It showed off just how much of an event this was to the Capitol, and showed how grotesque it really is, when you think about it, showing the balance between the showing off of the tributes and the dressing up, and the training. The Games were also well paced, though Katniss's time with Rue was very short and could've been extended for a fuller effect. The violence was definitely there, and we got touches of it, but, to keep it to a PG-13 rating, it was scarce and was shown in generalities only, though there is a lot of blood shown.

Additionally, the costuming and make-up were quite fun. They were outrageous and crazy, and were just so fun and playful. I wouldn't be surprised to see this film get either a make-up or a costume nod. Both were well done and were great.

One frequent complaint that I've read is the excessive use of "shaky cam". For the most part, I felt it was well-used. During fight scenes, understandable. Running through the woods, understandable. However, it was used way too much during the first half hour or so, I felt like I was watching the Hurt Locker. But it felt extremely misplaced when in the Capitol and on the train. I felt like I never got a very good look at anyone for the first little bit since it was zoomed awkwardly in some places, and was all very close shots, and hardly any wider shots for the first little while. Use of shaky cam should've been reserved for the Games, and it didn't have much business in the first half of the film, as it took away from the film more than it added to it. Additionally, some of the Visual Effects weren't that great. When Katniss and Peeta was on fire at the tribute parade, I actually chuckled out loud upon seeing. It looked incredibly fake, and phony. I realize they didn't have an enormous budget and it was saved for other things, but this looked pretty bad. Though I forgive them because most of the other things looked quite good.

There were many "added" in things as well, though all were incredibly beneficial to the film. The scenes between Seneca Crane and President Snow, the rebellion in District 11, the television discussion with Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith, etc. Even seeing more of Haymitch, and what kind of role he played in different things added more to the film that the book wasn't able to with a first person perspective.  We get to see the part Haymitch plays behind-the-scenes, and showing him sucking up his anti-socialism, and interacting with the sponsors in order to help Katniss, and just how much he really cares for her, and for Peeta. In a way, I felt the movie portrayed the overall themes and thoughts of the characters better than the book did, because it was less limited to Katniss's view.

Overall, this is one of the better blockbuster films, based on a YA novel no less, that has come out. With an 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, this film has done well for itself. Not to mention it had the biggest opening weekend, ever, for a non-sequel and has made a ton of money. This film has a wide appeal for both boys and girls, and it's great to see something the guys can get into as well, after having all-girls things like Twilight.
It's a fun movie, with some violence, some romance, and some fun costumes. It's a great movie, and a really well done adaptation.


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