[Review] – The Hunger Games

1 Apr

Title: The Hunger Games
Year: 2012
Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray, based on the novel by Ms. Collins
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Alexander Ludwig, Amandla Stenberg
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens
Runtime: 142 min
IMDb Rating: 7.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 67

By now you have no doubt heard a whole lot about The Hunger Games. You have heard how the trilogy of young adult novels it’s based on is so insanely popular. You heard about the exhaustive search by the studio for the right actress to play the lead role of Katniss. You heard about Jennifer Lawrence, coming off an Oscar nomination for her work in the masterful Winter’s Bone, snatching the coveted, star-making role. You heard about the casting of the rest of the roles, which were filled with truly terrific actors. You heard about Steven Soderbergh coming in as second unit director, about the great buzz, the spectacular early ticket sales. And of course you heard about the box office; this one had the third-highest opening weekend, and in the ten days it’s been in theaters it’s already surpassed the $250 million mark Stateside and the $360 million mark at the global box office. By which I mean, The Hunger Games is a true phenomenon.

Surprisingly enough, however, The Hunger Games is one of those box office behemoths that’s actually worthy of all of the money it’s been getting. Though obviously a hugely commercial film that will no doubt continue to make a killing at the box office and retain the screams of its millions of fanboys and girls through the upcoming sequels to this one, this is one of those rare blockbusters that’s also a tremendously great film on its own; one of the very best of 2012 so far, actually.

The scope of the novel is truly ambitious and massive, and a truly messy film could have resulted out of it. But director Gary Ross really got into it in the best of ways (having Suzanne Collins, the book’s author, as a co-writer alongside himself and Billy Ray certainly didn’t hurt), and he created a world that was visually stunning, captured the sheer level of emotion that’s such a huge part of the books, and didn’t shy away from the great deal of violence that’s at their core while still retaining the PG-13 rating. And, most importantly, he got a seriously tremendous cast; it’s because of these actors that the film works so damn well, everyone here got truly into their characters, and they’re what makes this film such a gripping and thrilling ride.

I was left just thoroughly impressed by this film, by its pacing, its directing, its acting. It truly is a wonderful achievement, to have a franchise kick things off with such a tremendous first film, to have a film be nearly two and a half hours in length and never once feel like it’s dragging along, and to have it jumpstart something that would have been inevitable nevertheless, the inclusion of Jennifer Lawrence in Hollywood’s A-list. This is a stunning film adaptation of such a popular book, and it has everything a blockbuster needs; likable stars, tons of energy, suspense, romance, and awesomely staged action set pieces.

If you’re somehow still in the dark about the story of this one, let me feel you in. Where the United States and Canada once where, now exists Panem, a civilization ruled by the wealthy and evil Capitol that has its grip over the twelve districts that make up this world. As a form of punishment for a past uprising, and as a form of control over its people, the Capitol every year conducts the Hunger Games: in which a boy and a girl of every district are chosen as tributes, and sent to an arena in which they battle to death in an event televised all over the nation until only one remains alive and is crowned the year’s victor.

You then meet Ms. Lawrence’s Katniss, who volunteers as tribute in order to save her younger sister who was elected as the year’s tribute for the poor District 12. And Ms. Lawrence has such an effortless grace to her that you so believe in Katniss as your heroine from the first moment you see her. You also meet Josh Hutcherson‘s Peeta Mellark, the male tribute of District 12. Of course one of them will have to die if the other wants to win the Games, but the possibility of romance is planted right from the start.

As we get to the Capitol the thematic elements that are such a huge part of The Hunger Games become apparent. This has a lot to say about the cult of celebrity, and about our reality television-drenched society, in which people would presumably watch a battle royale just because it’s good TV. We meet Elizabeth Banks‘ Effie Trinket who announces the tributes of each district; Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the talk show host who gets to interview each finalist before the Games start (and in his show the finalists have to seem super charming in order to get sponsors to offer them help throughout the Games); Donald Sutherland as President Snow, the man in charge of the Capitol and who’s desperate to keep all of his districts in check thanks to this evil competition; Wes Bentley, sporting some crazy facial hair, as Seneca, the game-maker who designs the competition and alters it as it happens; Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, the fashion genius who gets close to Katniss as he gives her a makeover; and last, but certainly not least, the always-great Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, the former Games winner who’s now pretty much always drunk and acts as a mentor to both Katniss and Peeta.

It’s a spectacular array of characters that really get things going so brilliantly. The people of the Capitol seem to be all in bright colors, complementing their satirized kind of existence within Panem; and I loved how the film showed how much of a PR stunt it could be for people to survive. Haymitch encourages the romantic entanglement between Peeta and Katniss because that would get viewers behind them, and with them the sponsors. While this film is infinitely entertaining, there’s a lot being said about the cult of celebrity, government control, self-preservation and the effects of war.

The Hunger Games truly is one of the best films we’ve seen in this first quarter of 2012. This is a film that’s superbly acted by everyone involved, that has some killer action sequences, and that poses some complex moral questions while at it. I honestly can’t recommend this one enough, and I can’t wait for the two sequels (though maybe they’ll pull a Harry Potter and split the final book in two). People were talking about this one as a worthy successor to the Twilight-levels of teens screaming and lining up by the thousands to watch this one, but, to be honest, Twilight isn’t a worthy predecessor to this one. Nothing against Kristen Stewart because I love her, but Jennifer Lawrence gets the role of a girl doing something out of principle, to save her sister’s life, not just whining for two hours about a vampire while a wolfboy goes after her, and she aces this performance. The Hunger Games are here, the odds are in its favor and, much like the people of Panem, we’ll be stuck to the screen watching it all unfold.

Grade: A-

 

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6 Responses to “[Review] – The Hunger Games”

  1. thethrussellproject April 2, 2012 at 12:20 am #

    Great review

  2. conordcfc April 2, 2012 at 7:17 am #

    Very good review, nice to see you enjoyed the film too! Take a look at my review too when you get the chance! http://conordcfc.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/film-review-the-hunger-games-2012/

    Thanks!

  3. AndyWatchesMovies April 2, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Man, Stanley Tucci can do anything

    • ArtfullyBedraggled April 2, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      So, so true, one of the most versatile actors we have working today.

  4. colincarman April 2, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    Too kind! Dragged and bloated…write on!

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