Wow. If you have not gotten a chance to see this film yet, I HIGHLY recommend it! The trailers did not do this film justice, a refreshing change I know. The young cast is tremendously talented and the writing is excellent. I hate it when a book is now very popular with the tween-age crowd and the film studios think they have a hit from that fact alone. Rest assured, dear readers, that such is NOT the case here. Or rather, this fact alone does not make “The Hunger Games” great. The novel it is based upon certainly created a unique story and one that I found very engaging, but this is film – a different animal entirely.
The story follows Katniss Everdeen, a tough teenage girl that has developed some impressive archery skills while hunting for food. Set in a post-apocalyptic near-future North America, the setting is constructed of the wealthy Capitol surrounded by 12 poor districts that once attempted to rebel against the Capitol. Well, that’s what I got out of it anyway. I don’t know why they rebelled but the Districts lost. As punishment for this defeat, a teenage boy and girl are selected by lottery from each District to compete in the Hunger Games. The Games are a lethal sort of Survivor set in an arena inside the Capitol which is somehow controlled in every aspect by the powers that be in the Capitol. The competitors are called Tributes, and there is only 1 winner: the last living Tribute. The objective thusly is to kill everybody else. Not a bad story concept, although not entirely original.
The best thing about “Games” is Jennifer Lawrence can REALLY act, and she brings warmth to the role of Katniss. That is to say, she has the ability to make you believe in her character and sympathize with her. That’s not easy to do, and I credit Ms. Lawrence for really getting into the role. I don’t know anything about her preparation for the role, but it shows on screen! She will make you root for Katniss, easily. She will also make you try to understand the awful situation that she has been cast into. This was all handled so brilliantly that I must also applaud Gary Ross, Director and co-writer of the screenplay for the quality of this film.
This brings me to the pacing of the film. The film seems to start slow, and it seems clearly divided into 3 parts. The 1st part: the build up to the “Reaping” which is the lottery in each District. A gruesome name for a gruesome aspect of this society, right? The 2nd part: the last days of life and luxury, wherein the Tributes are trained for the Games. Where other treatments of similar material would be handled by montages set to inspiration music, “Games” takes you into the characters more deeply. It all seems so surreal, and the actors (Lawrence and her counterpart from District 12 Josh Hutcherson) do an amazing job with this portion of the film. Then, the 3rd part: the Games themselves. Ross directs this material effortlessly. I didn’t even realize the film was well underway and the audience had yet to be introduced to the Games themselves. That was not disappointing – it was refreshing!
The subtle nature of pitting a girl that masters archery out of necessity against others trained to simply kill is a great storyline. It didn’t end there, either. There is the helpful designer Cinna, played by Lenny Kravitz with such heart that you wanted to hug him when he has to bid Katniss good luck in the Games. There is shrill Effie Trinket (played by the almost unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks) and her drunken veteran winner of the Games, Haymitch Abernathy (played by Woody Harrelson with aplomb). And Stanley Tucci as the Woo-ville Master of Ceremonies, Caesar Flickerman (what a name!) is absolutely spot-on. In other words, the supporting cast was terrific in their portrayals as well as their usage within the film. Ross did a bang-up job of using his actors in the best way!
However, there is one down-side to “Games” and it happens towards the end of the film. SPOILER ALERT!!!! This is what I am now beginning to refer to as my U.T.R. – Ugly “Twilight” Reference. Through the events of the Games, Katniss and Peeta (Hutcherson’s character) develop a relationship, but apparently Katniss and Gale Hawthorne (played by Liam Hemsworth), a boy from back home, have a connection as well. Oh gee, here we go. Now, I begin to sense WHY the tweens loved the novel. A female torn between 2 lovers, and they are all teenagers. Hmmm. Sounds awfully similar to (I hate to say it) THAT film/story. So, maybe the sequel to this one may blow chunks because of direct comparisons to that Vampire-Werewolf shlock-fest. At least Ross waited until the very end of “Games” to drop this one in our laps.
Regardless, “The Hunger Games” rises to the occasion and delivers the goods: a well-acted, engaging story that is paced brilliantly. This one is completely worth catching at the theater if you had a vague inkling that it might be worthwhile but were undecided. Go see it! You will find yourself immersed almost immediately into this world, and you’ll be thinking “why didn’t I go see this sooner?”
—and that’s it for this edition of THE REEL VOICE.
- Trailer for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Starring Jennifer Lawrence (shoppingblog.com)