Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Hunger Games (Film Review)

It's been one year since I sat on an airplane, utterly transfixed by Susanna Collins "Mockingjay." I'd read the entire "Hunger Games" in just a matter of days and was floored by the thoughts, ideas and feelings spawned from the series. I knew here was something powerful and worth sharing, which I promptly did in my review here on the blog.

Not long later Jennifer Lawrence was cast as Katniss Everdeen, and fans debated whether the blonde beauty could really pull off the brunette huntress. I'd already been impressed by her range and grew further confident in the casting when I watched her performance in "Winter's Bone" (for which she received an Oscar nomination). I was equally happy with the following decisions made by the production crew and absolutely delighted with the trailer.

However. I have too much experience with the film industry to expect a perfect film based on positive pre-film information. Too many times I've seen amazing trailers hype up terrible movies, and vice versa.

Still... "The Hunger Games" had an awfully lot going for it. In addition to Lawrence's casting, the credits included author Susanna Collins as a screenwriter. Most authors are actually rather terrible at adapting for the screen, as screenwriting is a very different craft than novel writing. However Collins has a background in television and her writing style shows this. So going into the film, I was cautiously optimistic.

Let's get the negative out of the way first. The film made the decision to rely heavily on handheld cameras. While I think this method will be less upsetting on a smaller screen, for me it resulted in terrible nausea and the next day I ended up with a migraine that landed me in the ER. Yikes! Other friends have told me that they also found the jerkiness distracting and difficult, but this is not universal. Still, if motion sickness is an issue for you, be warned.

And that's it. The only negative apart from one costuming eye-raise. Seriously. I found all of the casting perfect, the design pitch perfect, and the script...

Oh the script. Friends, do you have any idea how hard it is to adapt a first person narrative into a third person film? Especially something like "The Hunger Games" where nearly all of the vital information is relayed via Katniss's thoughts. The film cleverly utilized the character of Seneca (beautifully executed and I adore his beard), and the announcers to convay the information without detracting from the story. In fact, it solidifies the horror of what we're watching - that this isn't some survival story, it's a culture that watches mass killings of children for entertainment.

Furthermore, I felt the film did a wonderful job of keeping in all of the memorable and important scenes from the book, and removing the superfluous ones. Not once did I go "but where is that?" or "why did they leave that in?" Sure there are bits from the book that are dear that didn't make it in, but I'm okay with, say, the stylists staying mainly on the pages of the book and off the screen. More important imho are scenes like the interviews (which were pitch perfect) and Rue's death, which was one of the most moving pieces of cinema I think we've seen this year.

Katniss was brilliant, Haymitch and Ellie hilarious, Cinna adorable, and Peeta fantastic. I know many people who just don't like Josh Hutcherson, but he looked and acted exactly as I envisioned Peeta from the book.

All in all, "The Hunger Games" is one of the best book-to-film adaptations I have ever seen and I am eagerly awaiting rewatching it and enjoying the sequels.

For those concerned about content, the film does a good job of keeping actual violence and gore away from viewers eyes and minimizes the kissing, so that the film is actually more appropriate for younger viewers than the book.

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