Homefront movie
7.25 out of 10
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire movie
8.75 out of 10
Disney's Frozen movie
10.0 out of 10
Delivery Man movie
6.75 out of 10
8.25 out of 10

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games

The World Will Be Watching

Rated: PG-13   Intense violent thematic material and disturbing images - all involving teens.
Release Date: March 23, 2012
Runtime: 2 hrs 22 mins

Director: Gary Ross
Writers:  Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

SYNOPSIS:  Each year, the Capitol of Panam requires each of its 12 Districts to subject one boy and one girl to compete in the Hunger Games, where the twenty-four Tributes must fight to the death until only one competitor remains.

REVIEW: Gary Ross, writer and director of Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, has proven that he understands the minds of youth and the perils and pitfalls of the competitors of sporting events. Taking the characters from the first book in 'The Hunger Games' trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, Gary Ross, Billy Ray (State of Play), and Suzanne Collins herself bring the inhabitants of Panam (a future ruined North America), its Capitol, its surrounding districts, and the competitors in the annual Hunger Games to life.
In District 12, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, X-Men: First Class) cares for and hunts for her sister Primrose (Willow Shields, Beyond the Blackboard) and widowed mother, and toys with the notion of leaving the district with her friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, Knowing). As the 74th Annual Hunger Games approaches, representatives from the Capitol headed by Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks,  The Next Three Days) come to the district for the Reaping, the selection of one boy and one girl between the ages of fourteen and seventeen to serve as Tributes for the game. Every family's request for government assistance asked for during the year between games equates to an additional ballot for one of the family's children of age. When Primrose is selected as District 12's female tribute, Katniss volunteers. Also selected from the district as the male tribute is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island). Together they accompany Effie back to the Capitol to prepare for the Game. Drunkard Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson, Zombieland), tormented winner of the 50th Hunger Games, is selected to mentor and prepare the pair for the televised fight to the death. Joining the District 12 prep team is stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz, Precious) and District 12 representative Effie. During training, Katniss and Peeta prove they are not simple poor district trash, and that they may be contestants to contend with. Although there are 24 Tributes in total, the most arrogant and cable competitors are embodied in District 1 tributes Marvel (Jack Quaid), and Glimmer (Leven Rambin, One Tree Hill) and District 2 tributes Cato (Alexander Ludwig, Race to Witch Mountain) and Clove (Isabelle Fuhrman, Orphan), 'Careers' who train their entire youth to compete. Once the games begin, Peeta and Katniss are on their own in a camera-filled, electronically-controlled, forested domed death arena.

Starting with the characters, Jennifer Lawrence ended up being an excellent choice for Katniss. Athletic and strong, the Katniss character still exudes innocent and resistance to the status quo of the Games. Hutcherson plays Peeta with strength and cockiness, until he realized he is really in over his head. Stanley Tucci (Captain America: The First Avenger) and his blue hair add the glitz and glamour as the Hunger Games Master of Ceremony and co-anchorman Caesar Flickerman, seeming like the Ryan Seacrest of a failed dystopian future. While Caesar comes to the screen as the bright shiny face of The Hunger Games, Wes Bentley (Gone) and his orchestrated beard directs a team of producers and technicians to capture every moment of the televised games and, sometimes, change the unscripted event with some additions and nudges of his own. Eiizabeth Banks is nearly unrecognizable as the powdered-face, geisha-painted lipped, Effie. The other stand-outs are Amandia Stenberg as the petite, pint-sized Tribute Rue (Colombiana) and the barely-seen but important Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne. And Donald Sutherland's President Snow, although soft-spoken, carries with him an experience and political and personal agenda that will certainly be explored further in the additional films.

I will be the first to admit that I never heard of Susan Collins trilogy of Scholastic books until The Hunger Game film was announced. And as a true cinest, I did not want to jump on the book reading bandwagon for fear that my movie going experience would be tarnished with ruined story plots and blown surprise reveals. In spite of that admission, I will admit that I did bone up on my Panam universe history just to be prepared for the Hunger Games. Ross, Ray and Collins do successfully recreate the written word from Collins' first Katniss novel into a freshman film that does not lessen the experience for the uninitiated. From the locales to the costumes to the actors and characters, The Hunger Games is something to behold. Maybe a little lengthy and slow for my taste (please do not crucify me, 'Hunger Game' book fans!), I do realize that several secondary characters and scenes from the original book were downplayed in order to keep the most important elements. I also realize that a few scenes were quick and concise to get important story points across to the audience, and to keep the film propelling forward.

With intense scenes like the start of the 74th Hunger Games at the Cornucopia followed by retreats and periods of waiting with Katniss roped onto a high canopy tree limb, the story did have periods that were a little uneven for me. The character development of Katniss and Peeta through the course of the game did help to keep my interest between fights in the last act. Knowing that it was important to focus on Katniss during the games, I did find that Seneca Crane and his televised reality show production got a little forgotten for a time toward the end.

The Hunger Games hype is sweeping across the country as the film opened to a non-sequel box office record breaker for its opening night midnight screenings. Will The Hunger Games replace the Twilight Saga as the next big thing once Breaking Dawn: Part 2 premieres this November? First it was Harry Potter, then Twilight, now The Hunger Games. If the box office is any indication, that very well may be the case.

WORTH: Matinee and DVD

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