Review: “The Hunger Games”

The tagline “The world will be watching” applies not only to the titular games but for this film as well. I can’t think of a film adaptation since “Harry Potter” that has been watched with this much scrutiny, and anticipation. From casting, to shooting locations, to exactly

"Shoot straight, Katniss"

how sanitized it would have to be to get a rating that allowed it’s core audience to even see it, the saga of even bringing it to the screen was a tale in and of itself. But, it’s here, the film adaptation of  Suzanne Collins’ 2008 young adult phenomenon has exploded onto the big screen for all to see.

“Games” is the story of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) who lives in a dystopian future North America where each year 24 children are forced to fight to the death for the amusement of the tyranical Capitol. The film follows Katniss (and her fellow District 12 tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) as they train and fight in the brutal funhouse of evil that is the arena. But the story, in the books and the film is all Katniss. Lawrence, an Oscar nominee in 2010 for “Winter’s Bone,” carries this film almost entirely by herself. While the rest of the cast does a remakable job, particularly Amandla Stenberg’s heartbreaking Rue, Lawrence is a the center of it all and handles it beautifully.

That Lawrece carries this film, the book being entirely Katniss’ first-person narration, is hardly surprising, but the care with which the fimmaker’s changed that scource material to fit into the confines of a film is sort of amazing. Cutaways provide the audience with explanations of some of the most esoteric plot elements and extra scenes expand the story in a glimpse of things to come in this dark and intense series.

The looking ahead that the fimmaker’s have done is clear. Liam Hemsworth’s Gale, best friend to Katniss, has little to do in this first film although as the series progresses he becomes more and more important. The same with the nefarious President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who’s true mania is barely glimpsed in this first film. But, director Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”) and writers Ross, Collins and Billy Ray have layered enough of them into the film that you understand their importance, even if the meaning behind that importance isn’t entirely clear.

The film captures the brutality and pain in the books as well as stunningly illustrating the visuals in the novel. The PG-13 rating allows enough of the nightmarish world to shine though. The fights are however captured in stunningly obnoxious shaky cam with few wide shots to allow you to really see what was actually happening- in fact the film’s finale has a single wide shot that was so jarring in it’s clarity that it put the rest of the film in sharp relief.. Was this done to tone down the brutal violence of the story to secure that rating remains unclear but it’s a change that needs to be made before the more complicated violence of “Catching Fire” begins shooting. But, this film is not for the faint, it doesn’t shy away from the horrors these kids are facing and in fact draws us in to momentarily share them.  A

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