If it's crap ... We'll tell you
A few weeks ago, I sat down and read The Hunger Games trilogy, and I was excited to see how well it would translate to the big screen. I got my chance to find out today as I went to the 9:30 showing of the first book, The Hunger Games. The dystopian science fiction action-drama film - which is rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images - stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland. Book to film translations are always a mixed bag; for every Harry Potter, you get a Percy Jackson (I'm only assuming, because I've never read any of the Percy Jackson books). This film has the benefit of having the author of the series serve as one of the writers of the film. Does the impact and import of Suzanne Collins overrule whatever Lionsgate Films would want to do with her property, or does she stand firm? Only one way to find out...
The movie begins with an explanation of how the Hunger Games came to be. Somewhere in the near future, North America as we currently know it no longer exists; instead, what's left of the continent is divided into thirteen Districts, with all of them reporting to the Capitol. Sometime later on, the Districts revolted against the Capitol's regime. The Capitol eventually won, but they forced the other twelve Districts (District 13 being a casualty) to send up a male and female child from the ages of 12 to 18 to serve as "tributes" and participate in an annual ritual known as The Hunger Games. The film then switches to 16 year old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and 17 year old Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) hunting in the forbidden area outside of District 12. All goes well until they notice a ship flying above them. The ship signals the beginning of the "Reaping", where the Tributes are chosen. Katniss and Gale have their names listed several times, as they receive enough grain and oil to make it through a year by doing so. Katniss' sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), is also up for her first Reaping, but the odds are slim that she will be chosen. The time for the Reaping begins with a flourish, thanks to Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth Banks), and the first tribute is chosen: Primrose Everdeen. Katniss volunteers in her behalf, and the male tribute - Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is chosen. They are whisked to the Capitol, where they meet their mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), and Katniss meets her stylist, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Eventually, the time comes for the Games to begin, and the movie takes off from there.
For me, the things I liked about this movie, are bountiful. For starters, I enjoyed the entire cast. There were some people that got on my nerves, but I understood why: it was their place to get on my nerves. I especially loved Jennifer Lawrence in her role; she emoted wonderfully without saying a single word. Similarly, Josh Hutcherson played Peeta with a playful innocence when required, and a dutiful forcefulness when the time came. I also loved the emotional punch the film provided. There was a part of the book where I damn near broke down into tears, and the same thing happened to me when I saw the film. I literally had to take a few deep, cleansing breaths to compose myself. On that same note, the film added a few scenes that weren't in the book, and the scene after that emotional drain was just so powerful, I almost lost it again. In fact, I'm getting choked up just thinking about it. The final thing that I really liked was the fact that there was very little CGI. There are some instances of flying crafts and a whole lot of CGI usage in the arena control room, but there is very little in the area of CGI.
There aren't a whole lot of things I disliked in the movie, but one o the main things was also an inevitable one: there have to be cuts in a book to film translation. A lot of the cuts are part of Katniss' inner thoughts; the books are written in a first-person narrative, and parts of that don't ever translate well in film, due to the internal monologue that would look cheesy on film with thought bubbles. Staying with that theme, they also missed a golden opportunity at the end to vocalize that inner monologue. Instead of making Katniss' thoughts known, they wrapped it up in a clunky manner. They did a nice touch at the end that was supposed to show an inner struggle, but it wasn't really handled well. Another thing that made me scratch my head was the shaky-cam documentary format; a lot of that was done to not show the killing blows of the teens, as well as to make us feel as if we were actually watching the Games on TV. The last thing that comes to mind is the CGI. Yeah, I just praised the lack of it, with the exception of a few instances, but one instance near the end of the Games looked like it came from an animator at Pixar...if that animator was demented beyond all recognition. The actors performed well with that limitation, but it really was a limitation.
The film was directed by Gary Ross, a director who is well known as the director of Pleasantville and Seabiscuit (saw the former, have no interest in the latter). He does well with the quiet moments and the humor, but he tends to flail around when it comes to the action. That goes back to the shaky-cam stuff I mentioned earlier; I'm not a fan of the shaky-cam genre, so I may be a bit biased here. The score was done by James Newton Howard and T-Bone Burnett, and I loved how virtually minimalist it was. I really enjoyed what they did with Caesar Flickerman's theme; it really fit with Stanley Tucci's great performance. I also loved how they resisted the desire to sell pop music in the film; they waited until the end credits to unleash it. This pleased me immensely.
If you haven't noticed by now, I really liked this movie. It had the charm I wanted, enough violence to satiate me, and it really left me anticipating the second film, which is scheduled to be released in November of 2013. Seeing that it did a lot more right than it did wrong (there was more to mention, but it would've spoiled the movie), I can confidently say this movie is worth a Full Price. Go check it out, and enjoy the ride.
May the odds be ever in your favor.