© 2012 Ray Wong
If you don't know what The Hunger Game is, you must have been hiding under a rock or still stuck with Twightlight-mania. The hugely popular series has now metamorphosed into big screen movies, and a new franchise is born.
In the land of a distant future, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is the oldest of two daughters in the Everdeen family which reside in "District 12" -- the coal miners' district. She is poor and hungry all the time, but she also learned how to hunt and survive. During the annual "reaping" (in which one boy and one girl between the age of 8 and 16 will be selected to participate in the televised "Hunger Game" where the contestants will fight to their deaths until only one winner remains), her sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is selected in the lottery. To save her sister from a sure death, Katniss volunteers to take Primrose's place.
As the first volunteer in the history of the Hunger Game, Katniss becomes an instant celebrity. She and her fellow contestant, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), travel to the Capital to participate in a four-day training and festivities. Their guardian is flamboyant Effie (Elizabeth Banks), and their mentor is Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a former winner of the Hunger Game. Feeling a special bond between himself, Katniss and Peeta, Haymitch teaches them everything he knows and how to survive the game. Especially for headstrong and unyielding Katniss, Haymitch's advice is extraordinarily valuable.
Then the contestants are sent off to the "arena" -- an artificial forest where cameras are everywhere and night can turn into day with the touch of a computer screen -- and the game is on. The spectator game becomes a fight for these children's lives. The honor of being the winner comes with the price of savagery, brutality, and the will to live.
Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men First Class) has proven herself quite an actress in Winter's Bone (with an Oscar nomination to prove it) and quickly risen to stardom in only a couple of years. She is perfect as Katniss, the headstrong, rather antisocial heroine. I like it that Lawrence has the girl-next-door quality to which common folks like us can relate. Not to mention she is a rather good actress, and she does the popular lead character justice and carries the movie admirably.
By now, Josh Hutcherson (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) is an "old pro" in Hollywood. He gets to grow up in the Hunger Game. Peeta Mellark is the most mature and serious role Hutcherson has taken on, and he's done a great job in giving us a solid, sympathetic character. The supporting cast is great as well. Stanley Tucci (Captain American: The First Avenger) is a hoot as the MC of the Hunger Game. Elizabeth Banks (Man on the Ledge) also hams it up as Effie. Woody Harrelson (Friends with Benefits) gives a empathetic, ernest performance as Haymitch, and Wes Bentley (Gone) is fantastic as the producer. Last but not least, Donald Sutherland (Horrible Bosses) are quietly evil as President Snow.
Adapted by author Suzanne Collins herself with the help of director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) and Billy Ray (State of Play), the screenplay is comprehensive and rather true to the novel. While the story has an epic sci-fi feel to it, the plot is straightforward and easy to follow. The lead characters are well developed, and the world-building is great even though we only get bits and pieces of the backstory. That's enough to intrigue us and keep us engaged.
However, it seems that they had to sacrifice certain aspects of the story to keep the movie under three hours. The development of the minor characters are sketchy, thus they feel like caricatures at times. We never really understand the background and reasons behind this culture -- we have to accept many things about this world on face value. While there reasons behind the Hunger Game is explained, it is not very convincing (the book does a much better job making us believe). As exciting as the plot and story and action are, I can't help but feel that it borrows heavily from many sources. There are imageries and plot elements and themes that resemble everything from The Running Man, Bladerunner, Predators, V for Vendetta, Lord of the Flies, and The Truman Show.
Don't get me wrong, they've done a great job combining all these elements into a thrilling, enthralling and engaging action adventure that touches on many serious themes. In this case, I'd say they've borrowed well, despite the sketchiness of the minor characters.
The production is fantastic. Ross has done a great job building that world, and letting us in. The set pieces are impressive. The sets and costumes are marvelous. The special effects are excellent. The only gripe I have is about the action sequences -- the fight scenes are all done in close ups, no doubt softening the blow of the brutality of seeing teens slaughtering each other. As an audience, though, I'd prefer something more visceral and real -- I think it'd have a much bigger impact instead of being confusing.
Even with its flaws, The Hunger Game is a fantastic adaptation of a hugely popular novel. The franchise will no doubt continue with the rest of the series, and I for one am hungry for more.
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth
Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray (based on novel by Suzanne Collins)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense violence, thematic material and disturbing images involving teens
Running Time: 142 minutes
Script - 8
Performance - 8
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 9
Total - 8.0 out of 10.0