Movie Reviews

The Hunger Games

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Rating: 8 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark
Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne
Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket
Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy
Willow Shields as Primrose Everdeen
Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman
Donald Sutherland as President Snow
Alexander Ludwig as Cato
Isabelle Fuhrman as Clove
Dayo Okeniyi as Thresh
Leven Rambin as Glimmer
Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane
Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith
Paula Malcomson as Katniss' Mother
Raiko Bowman as Peeta's Mother
Kimiko Gelman as Venia
Nelson Ascencio as Flavius
Brooke Bundy as Octavia
Lenny Kravitz as Cinna
Amandla Stenberg as Rue
Jack Quaid as Marvel
Latarsha Rose as Portia

Directed by Gary Ross

Summary:
While "The Hunger Games" presents familiar themes, it's a sci-fi movie that both adults and kids can enjoy. Fans of the book should like it while movie fans should enjoy the bizarre costumes and action scenes.

Story:
This film is based on "The Hunger Games," written by Suzanne Collins.

In the future, the ruins of North America are now ruled by an evil government called the Capitol in the nation of Panem. The country is divided into twelve districts with each district required to provide annual Tributes, a teenage girl or boy, who are then required to compete in a last-man-standing fight to the death known as "The Hunger Games."

In District 12, Katniss Everdeen's young sister is unexpectedly selected in the lottery. In an act of desperation, Katniss volunteers to take her sister's place. Soon enough she's swept away to the Capitol along with Peeta Mellark to compete in the Hunger Games, but once there, Katniss discovers her skills in archery and her self-reliance will only get her so far. She must also learn to manipulate the media, court corporate sponsors, and rely on others if she has any hope of surviving.

"The Hunger Games" is rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images - all involving teens.

What Worked:
I went into "The Hunger Games" knowing relatively little about it. What I saw in the trailers was about the extent of my knowledge. My 12-year-old daughter, however, is a big fan of the novels and has been eagerly anticipating the movie since it was announced, so we went to this screening together, both eager to check it out. I wanted to see it because of the sci-fi aspects and the hype while she wanted to see it like millions of other fans of the book.

I have to say I was pleasantly surprised While it's not a particularly original concept, it's done in a fresh way. It's kind of a light, pre-teen version of "The Running Man" mixed with elements of "1984." You have your evil government, evil media, your futuristic setting, etc... itís all here. While it's easy to dismiss the thought of a society using the slaughter of children as entertainment, you can look back into our history and see plenty of examples of humanity doing just that or even worse--people killed in the Coliseum, child sacrifices to gods, concentration camps, etc. So it's kind of entertaining to see pre-teen fans of the book and movie being shocked by these themes that are new to them but are in reality as old as history itself.

For me, a lot of the fun of "The Hunger Games" was the world building that the creators had to do. A big part of that was the impressive production design and costumes. If you were to show our clothes and hair styles today to people 100 years ago, they'd think they were pretty outlandish. So for this movie they had to take our present day styles and extrapolate them to 100 years in the future and make them outlandish to us. Well, mission accomplished. I haven't seen that many bizarre costumes, make-up, and hair styles since the San Diego Comic-Con. You can tell they had a lot of fun with it. I think they deserve an Oscar nomination for it. I was also impressed with how they created this futuristic society with just a few city shots, some weird costumes, and strange furniture. It wasn't a major blast of visual effects. A vast majority of this film takes place in the woods, yet we accept that this is the future because of the few bits we saw. This is a case of 'less is more' working for a movie (like comparing the sets of "Star Wars: A New Hope" to the CGI eye-blast of the prequels). Anybody creating a sci-fi movie on a budget should take note.

I thought the performances were pretty good across the board. Jennifer Lawrence leads the cast as Katniss Everdeen. The whole movie would sink or swim based on how she did, and she handled the lead role well. She was physically tough and both emotionally strong and vulnerable at the same time. She was the strong core of her family back home but also a shy, nervous girl when thrown into the big city. Lawrence handled both convincingly. She's paired with Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and they have some pretty good chemistry, especially as the love triangle is set up with Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne.

The real fun comes with the adult cast. Elizabeth Banks is amusing as the insane looking Tribute-handler Effie Trinket; she's like a horrific clown in ruffles and lace. Woody Harrelson finally gets to play the good guy as Haymitch Abernathy. I'm so used to seeing Harrelson as the stoner or psychopath, it's nice to see him as a reluctant hero. Then there's Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman. Tucci just oozes talk show host smarminess. He's fun to watch as he chews up the scenery with his artificially white teeth. Also look for Donald Sutherland as the menacing President Snow and Wes Bentley and his freaky beard as Seneca Crane.

After the movie was over I asked my Hunger Games fan daughter what she thought of the movie. She said, "I guess I liked it." That actually translates to pretty high praise, so I'm guessing that most fans of the book are going to be happy with the movie. I can say that I enjoyed it and look forward to the sequels. It's pretty rare that I can go into a movie and enjoy it along with my pre-teen daughter, so this was a movie-going experience that I appreciated.

What Didn't Work:
My biggest gripe with "The Hunger Games" was the camerawork. In the first few minutes of the movie, Ross goes absolutely nuts with the 'shaky cam.' They show a girl walking down the street... and the camera shakes like crazy. They show two children playing in the mud... and it shakes even more. They show a man walking to work... and the camera shakes like it's strapped to a hyperactive toddler hopped up on caffeine and sugar. The 'shaky cam' works for action scenes, but I believe it should be used sparingly and certainly not in quiet scenes. I think filmmakers like it when they're watching it on a tiny monitor while filming on location, but they forget how it's going to look on a 3 story screen in a theater that takes up your whole field of vision. It's too much.

I think some of my other problems with the movie are likely more problems with the book than anything. For example, I didn't think it made sense that Katniss stopped in the middle of a kill-or-be-killed contest to have a mini-funeral for a character that was murdered. I understand that the scene had other purposes which I won't get into here, but it didn't seem to make sense in a survival game. I also keep going back and forth on whether I liked the ending or not. One of the big questions through the film was who was going to be left standing at the end of the Hunger Games, the implication being that either Katniss or Peeta was going to buy it before the story was over. Part of me thinks they handled it well while another part of me thinks the ending didn't handle the issue in the best interest of the story. In any case, the actual ending wasn't really satisfying as a standalone movie ending. It was more of a setup for the inevitable sequel.

The Bottom Line:
Overall I think "The Hunger Games" is worth checking out. While the hype may be overstating how good it is, I think both adults and kids will find it entertaining. And hopefully it's a gateway drug to sci-fi for pre-teen readers. At the very least I can endorse this over "Twilight."

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