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“The Hunger Games” – Early Review (POSITIVE)

March 21, 2012

It’s rare for adaptations of previous source materials to please its fan base this well, especially in its overall scope. Last week I literally finished reading Suzanne Collin’s first book in the Hunger Games trilogy to prepare myself for Gary Ross’ (“Seabiscuit”“Pleasantville”) blockbuster adaptation. The last time I did that for a movie based on a book was for “The Rum Diary” my reaction wasn’t too keen on the matter.

Here’s my two-cents on Collin’s book, it’s a good book, but it’s far from great; it becomes repetitive after awhile and certain characters weren’t developed as well as they should have. So, with all the fuss about the movie coming I decided to purge myself from every trailer, every exclusive clip, every pic that is “The Hunger Games”, I wanted the movie experience to be fresh. After doing so, the payoff was far greater than I expected, even with a few flaws, “The Hunger Games” is as strong as the lead heroin, played brilliantly by Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence.

For those who’re not familiar with the original source material, the story goes as followed: In the future, North America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, economic desolation, and war. Our country we once knew and cared for has become Panem. Panem is a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts that follow it. Each year two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery, called ‘the Reaping’, to participate in ‘The Hunger Games’. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the conquered districts, the televised games are broadcast throughout Panem as a twisted reality show. The 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch, no matter what. When 16-year-old Katniss’ (Lawrence) young sister, Prim (Willow Shields), is selected as the mining district’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place. She and her male cohort, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who’ve trained for this their whole lives. Twenty-four enter, only one will survive…

I’ll begin with casting; as far as the majorities go, the casting is rock solid. Jennifer Lawrence may very well get another Oscar nomination out of this performances, she was as raw & intimidating, much as the film she was previously nominated for,  “Winter’s Bone”, she certainly exceeded her performance capabilities in the role of Katniss. Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, and Wes Bentley give memorable and colorful performances in the respective roles they’re cast in, if I had to choose one, it’s gonna be Woody coming out on top with a Best Supporting Actor nod. However, my one big beef in the casting was Elizabeth Banks as Effie, good GOD was this the biggest miscasting of the entire film. It was uncomfortable to watch, and somewhat embarrassing to be experiencing. Another cast member I can see many being fickled about is Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. His past work, I’m not a fan of, he’s played a lot of douchey roles, and some unlikeable characters, so it’s hard to get that mentality out of my head. Here he wasn’t so bad, I could think of many other actors who’re better suited for the role than him, but for what he deliverers, it’s not the worst thing in the world.

The cinematography and editing are amazing here! I LOVED the technical work in this film. Gary Ross could’ve easily made this film look and feel cleaner than it needed to be, but he doesn’t, he goes back to the raw, sort of animalistic style in camera work and editing. The games, to me, was made to look like a [Werner] Herzog documentary, I got this feeling of “Grizzly Man” for a bit. One of the best, and notable scenes where camera work and editing work hand-in-hand was the start of the games, it’s the most intense and heart-pounding sequences of the year (so far). Another scene that I absolutely loved was the tracker jacker scene, the hyper-real editing style works perfectly; I myself was cringing for a bit. Kudos to Tom Stern (D.P.) and Stephen Mirrone & Juliette Welfing (Editors). On a small note, great subtle score by James Newton Howard, with the help of T-Bone Burnett.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not an uber die-hard fan of the books, they’re good, but they’re not great. Many of my friends that I know will probably skip this movie thinking that this is a comparison to the “Twilight” series, and as far as Lionsgate is considered, that’s one of their big marketing strategies, which is problematic, because this movie can really reach a broad audience all on it’s own. As a stand-alone movie, my point of view is this…it delivers! It has this great theme about poverty and the rich, class differences, and questioning ones humanity, these are strong themes. What the movie really reminded me of was the sci-fi dramas of the 1970s. It had this great mixture of “THX-1138” meets “Logan’s Run” meets “1984”. It’s approach is respectful, but doesn’t try to dumbfound the audience intelligence, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, but serious enough to convey its message. “The Hunger Games” is powerhouse science fiction drama that will leave an impression on fans and noobies alike. So far, the franchise is off to a great start to complete it’s planned cinematic trilogy.

GRADE: B+

Special thanks to Frenchy aka. Christine Labonté for attending the screening and sharing her input.

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