Friday, March 23, 2012

NN REVIEW: The Hunger Games

Book adaptations can be extremely difficult. Finding a balance of honoring the source material for the hardcore fans yet telling a comprehensive story that everyone can understand is a daunting task, especially when the tale is so beloved by millions. What director Gary Ross does with The Hunger Games is something truly remarkable that future book translations should learn from.

There are several aspects of The Hunger Games that make it wonderful, but the greatest and most noticeable is the cast. When I first saw that Jennifer Lawrence was cast as Katniss Everdeen, our protagonist, I was immediately filled with worry. She looked too old and far too pretty to play the poor, dirty girl I imagined from the books. I felt that Hollywood was going to get their grubby little paws on the movie and resort to casting whoever would draw the biggest crowd, not who was best for the part....damn was I wrong. Lawrence is stunning as Katnip and not once during the movie did I think of her as Jennifer Lawrence, she truly was Katniss. I was also worried about the casting of Peeta and Gale. It seemed that they were going the path of Twilight and signing the most attractive guys regardless of their acting prowess...again, dead wrong. Although Liam Hemsworth didn't have too much involvement as Gale, he quickly established his compassion for "Katnip" and it was clear how much he cared for her. Josh Hutcherson was phenomenal as Peeta; not only did he look the part, but his scenes with Lawrence were something to behold, the chemistry palpable between the two. From top to bottom, the cast in The Hunger Games was phenomenal and what could have been a kiss of death for the film ended up being its greatest strength.


The Hunger Games is nearly two and a half hours long, and not once did it feel that way. The pacing is brilliant as Ross methodically builds to the games with scenes that are often painstakingly quiet. It almost seems as if everyone is holding their breath waiting for all hell to break loose. Yet even though it does not feel like the build to the games is rushed, we get there in a hurry. The games themselves feel like they lasted at least an hour in the film (I honestly don't know when/how long they really were) and we don't feel shortchanged for a second. Granted, it's been some time since I read the book and there's no doubt some things were changed or altered for the film, but for the most part it played out almost exactly as I pictured it in the novel. The characters that I loved most from the book all make an appearance, if only for a brief time, and the trials that we see Katniss face are enough to make your stomach churn and your palms sweat. What we're left with is a satisfying conclusion that could have easily fallen flat after such a great buildup.

The Hunger Games is fantastic, but it isn't perfect. The visuals are solid for the most part, but at times they seem a bit lackluster and almost forced. A particular scene that stuck out to me was Katniss and Peeta's entrance into the Capitol on the chariots. A scene I vividly remembered from the book that didn't seem to have the same effect when on camera. The fire on Katniss' dress didn't convince, and it was clear that a good amount of green screen was involved in the process. This was really the only time that the visuals took something away from the movie for me though as everything else looked great (the Capitol was gorgeous). Another snag for the film is something that, I believe, is unavoidable. Obviously they can't play everything out exactly as it does in the book, but there were some scenes that were altered that felt like they didn't need to be messed with. I won't spoil anything, but those who have read the books might be left with a couple of disappointments. And on the other side of that coin, there are a decent amount of references and nods that will go straight over the heads of people who haven't read the books. The symbol of three fingers in the air and the back story between Peeta and Katniss may be lost on those who are unfamiliar with the source material. Other than these minor issues though, The Hunger Games completely satisfies.

I hope that the same care that went into The Hunger Games is put into the second two entries in this series. In my opinion, this was the best book of the three by far so it may be much more difficult to produce great results from here on out. But what The Hunger Games does right makes it worth your time and your money. Fans of the books will find the story that they love, and people who are experiencing it for the first time should be enticed by this haunting tale. From the cast, to the costumes, to the action, the movie works on multiple levels and, for the first time in a long time, gives us a movie that truly honors the wonderful book from where it came. The odds are ever in its favor.

My Rating: A

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