Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012) *Review 1*

This weekend, The Hunger Games took a serious bite into the record books. The film grossed $155.2 million, giving it the third highest opening weekend of all time (behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 and The Dark Knight), making it the highest opening for a non-sequel in film history. At last Thursday's midnight premiere alone, it grossed $19.7 million, which in itself almost was enough to win the entire weekend. In short, the movie made some serious coin.

The books, written by Suzanne Collins, haven't been doing too shabby, either. Since the first book's publication in 2008, the Hunger Games trilogy has sold more than 23.5 million copies in the United States alone. Collins is also the best selling Kindle author of all time. Interest in the books picked up significantly as the release date of the film adaptation drew nearer, evidenced by the fact that 7.5 million copies of the series were sold following the release of the original trailer on Nov. 14 of last year.

Needless to say, expectations were high. Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) directed the film, and also co-wrote the screenplay with Billy Ray and Collins herself. The die-hard fans paid close attention to the casting, as Jennifer Lawrence was selected to portray heroine Katniss Everdeen, who, after her Academy Award-nominated performance in Winter's Bone (where she also portrayed a resourceful, care-taking adolescent), was a pretty obvious choice. Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hensworth were picked to play Peeta and Gale, respectively, giving the younger female fans their own version of "Edward vs. Jacob," and Woody Harrelson was cast to portray the alcoholic mentor, Haymitch.

For an adaptation to become successful, it must unquestionably remain loyal to the book -- but in order to appeal to both the fan base and the casual moviegoer, it must also create its own identity while still capturing the book's overall essence. No easy task and much easier said than done.

Most people know the general synopsis of the film, so let me apologize for giving a rundown. The dystopian story takes place well into the future, following an unspecified post-apocalyptic event. The country is Panem, which is located somewhere in what was North America, and is ruled by President Snow, who is more a king, or an autocrat, than a president.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen
in The Hunger Games.
The country is divided into 12 districts, which starting from District 1, become more impoverished as they go on. Whereas District 1 is a beautiful, technologically-advanced Metropolis, District 12 is decrepit, and its inhabitants live from day-to-day and meal-to-meal.

Approximately 75 years ago, the Districts joined together in a rebellion against its totalitarian government, and lost. As means of punishment, the government enacted "The Hunger Games," a yearly tournament where two "tributes" -- a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 -- are selected from each District to compete in a tournament. The tributes are placed in an arena, and are expected to fight until the death until only one stands, all while the residents of the 12 Districts watch live on television.

Our story's protagonist, Katniss, resides in District 12. Since her father died in a mining accident, she's become the primary caretaker of her younger sister, Prim (Willow Shields), and her mother (Paula Malcomson.) As a result, she is way ahead of her years, and spends the majority of her time off in the woods, illegally hunting game with her best friend and hunting partner, Gale Hawthorne.

But let's fast forward. During the 74th Hunger Games, Prim is chosen as the female tribute from District 12, and Katniss immediately volunteers to step in and take her place in order to protect her. The male tribute chosen to accompany her is Peeta Mellarck, a boy who Katniss once shared a life-changing moment with.

The movie does so many things right. It devotes the majority of its attention towards capturing both the savagery and irrationality of the Hunger Games tournament itself, which it does well. But as the book appeals to all ages, including children, a lot of the violence is shown off-scream, and heard, rather than seen directly. But it's still there and still horrifying.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellarck.
Due to fine casting, the acting is superb, carried mainly by Lawrence, Hutcherson and Harrelson, and including nice contributions from a supporting cast of Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley, Elizabeth Banks and Alexander Ludwig. The latter of whom, Ludwig, portrays Cato, the male tribute from District 1; in fact, all of the teenage actors who portrayed the tributes did a fine job.

As with any adaptations, the die-hard fans will be able to find plenty of things to nitpick, with one of them being the lack of screen time devoted towards the outside world during the Games. A major theme of the books include the spectacle that the Hunger Games represents to Panem, and exactly how each District reacts to them is crucial. Besides from perhaps one or two quick shots to a couple of the Districts, it is mostly lacking, and the entirety of the movie takes place within the arena of the Games. It certainly excels there, conveying the evil that lurks behind each tree, both naturally and artificially created by the government.

Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne.

But I said before how a successful adaptation must obtain its own identity while still maintaining the true essence of it's originator, and I believe The Hunger Games does that. One of the keys is getting it right during the most important scenes. The culmination of the Hunger Games tournament, which of course I won't reveal, is shot perfectly, with the just the right distribution of violence and emotional emphasis -- it is after all, teenagers killing each other; remember, they're still innocents.

The score, also, thankfully devoid of pop music, composes music solely by a orchestra, and weaves seamlessly throughout the film, enhancing the film's ambiance.

I previously emphasized the burdensome task of adapting a book that is beloved by millions of people. To tamper with a world that has been transfixed within the heart and soul of its fans, and do it incorrectly, can be considered nothing short of sacrilege. However, The Hunger Games manages to stay true to its source and, at the same time, attain its own artistic merit. The result, undoubtedly, will give its loyal readers yet another thing to love about Suzanne Collins's creation.

~Review by Ddubbs

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