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Monday, March 26, 2012

"May the odds be ever in your favor"

The Hunger Games was released this past weekend and I had an opportunity to go check it out.  I don't know about you, but before I see an adaptation, I like to be familiar with the source material, so I read the book, and the second book, and I've just started reading the third book.  I have to say, they're pretty good.  They read very quickly and the story comes alive without much hesitation.  On to the film.  For those unfamiliar with the universe of The Hunger Games, allow me to set the scene.  It is the future, North America no longer exists in the capacity with which we are familiar.  Instead, the continent, renamed Panem, is divided up into 13 districts and a capitol.  At the first book what we know is this:  There was some kind of uprising against the government that ended in district 13 being destroyed, leaving 12 functioning districts.  This was 74 years ago.  As punishment, and a constant reminder to the districts, two "tributes" are offered each year to fight in a game to the death, you guessed it, The Hunger Games.  (All the 12 districts are known for the manufacturing of various good and raw materials.  The capitol is a center of wealth and decadence and the districts get poorer the farther out you go).  Cut to district 12.  The story follows 16 year old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a skilled hunter from the poverty stricken district 12, who finds herself "tribute" for the Hunger Games when she volunteers to take her 12 year old sister's place.  She is taken, along with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) to the capitol, where they are showered with food and accommodations...and also showers.  They are groomed, well fed and tailored to present an image to the rest of Panem.  The games have become more than just a punishment for the rebellion, now a televised event that everyone in Panem watches, for the sake of entertainment or to keep tabs on the loved ones battling to the death.  I won't go any further into the plot because that's basically all you need to know without really ruining anything.
One "problem" that can arise from reading the book before seeing the movie is that you are always weighing the adaptation against the source, and 9 times out of 10 the adaptation is a disappointment.  I don't know exactly what is was about this film that made it a good adaptation but it was quite enjoyable.  I was pleasantly surprised with some of the content they included from the book, stuff I wasn't sure they were going to try to replicate (some of the more fantastical stuff), but they did, and I thought they pulled it off well, I really enjoyed that.  I kind of wished they would've gone into the importance of the Mockingjay pin but that's a minor flaw that I have no doubt will be taken care of in the next film.
One of the big issues I have heard buzzing about this film is that it's basically the same thing as the Japanese film Battle Royale.  It is a bunch of kids killing each other, sure, but the idea is in no way original.  We have Lord of the Flies before both of these films.  The idea of people in an arena fighting to the death has been throughout history all over the place and the subject of film more than a few times, with Gladiator and the Spartacus television series and before all that the actual Spartacus film from Stanley Kubrick (technically Gladiator and Battle Royale both saw release in 2000, but that's irrelevant). I understand the reason the comparison is made is because of the fact that it's kids killing each other but who cares, the story is derivative, I know, but that didn't matter when I was watching it or reading it because I was enjoying it all the time.  One cool thing that differed from the book in the film was the lack of 1st person narrative.  In the book we see things only from Katniss' perspective, filtered through her consciousness with her own feelings mixed in.  In the film we have a 3rd person omniscient narrator so we can see events that are happening away from Katniss.  There are some scenes involving President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) that I really enjoyed. It's one of those rare instances where the filmmaker diverted from the source material and added something else and it actually worked for the film.
One minor technical thing that I feel I should bring up is the camera-work.  It is very shaky, sometimes to the  point of being annoying but they either toned it down later or I just got used to it because it only bothered me in the beginning.  The one time I think it was used effectively was during the initial bloodbath, much of the violence occurs off-screen (while it would've been more effective to show the carnage, I understand why he didn't) but the frenetic movement of the camera coupled with the ferocity of the tributes and the screams of the victims, makes the scene very effective.
One last thing before I finish up here.  Personally I found the supporting actors very fun to watch.  Elizabeth Banks as the ever-on-schedule Effie Trinket, Woody Harrelson as the drunk, former Hunger Games victor Haymitch Abernathy and especially Stanley Tucci as the eccentric television show host Ceasar Flickerman.


The Hunger Games is, while not original, a very entertaining, fun, and occasionally moving film that I think any demographic can enjoy.  Those that read the books will be a bit more on the up and up but those who haven't can enjoy it just the same.  I recommend it and would gladly see it again.

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