If it's crap ... We'll tell you
2012 is shaping up to be a damn good year, and The Hunger Games is early but solid proof of that.
The Hunger Games takes place in a future dystopian totalitarian society where the USA has been split into 12 different districts. After a bloody uprising that was quelled by the government, the evil President Snow decides, in order to remind people of their place, to throw an event called The Hunger Games where one male and one female in each district is chosen to fight to the death, there are twenty-four "tributes" (ie: people chosen to fight) and by the end only one will stand. While they fight each district is forced to watch the Games on a large screen in the center of the district. When Katniss( played by the always magnificent Jennifer Lawrence) finds out her little sister, Prim, has been chosen to compete she willingly volunteers to take her place in the games. Her values and survival skills are tested as she fights in the games and eventually hesitantly falls for the other tribute in her district, a young teen named Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, who proves that he indeed can act).
I had heard a lot of people praising this not so little film, so naturally I had to see it. I was aware that its biggest fans seemed to be teen girls, but I was also aware that the book had some brutal violence, so I was intrigued but cautious. I was shocked at how quickly The Hunger Games had sucked me into it's beautiful, dark world. After around twenty minutes, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen.
The Hunger Games is not only an action film, it also serves as an engaging look into the society that Katniss is a part of and what makes it tick, and to me that is what made the film truly great. The people that live in the districts live in poverty, it's an everyday struggle for them but when Katniss volunteers to compete in the games she gets to see how the 1% live when her and Peeta are whisked away to the Capital to train for the games. The people that live in the Capital are some of the most colorful, zany, and yet ethically questionable people you will meet. In short, they're tons of fun.
There's the ditzy Effie Trinket (played to superb effect by Elizabeth Banks, she is unrecognizable here due to a fantastic makeup job) who chooses at random who is to compete in the games and accompanies the tributes to the Capital. There's the alcoholic, gruff mentor with a heart of gold Haymitch (played by the always great Woody Harrelson). There's the sympathetic fashion designer Cinna (A great and lovable Lenny Kravitz), who quickly forms a bond with Katniss. There's the man who runs the Hunger Games Seneca Krane (played by the always wonderfully weird Wes Bentley). There's the wacky talk show host and commentator for the games Caesar Flickerman (played by the always fantastic Stanley Tucci, who is also unrecognizable here. He is easily one of my favorite characters in the film, I'd go so far to say he may even deserve a best supporting actor nod). There's the evil tyrannical President Snow (played by the brilliant Donald Sutherland, he really makes you hate his character. A great job). The cast of characters we run into at the Capital are a mixed bag, some are more evil than others, some seem genuinely good people, and some seem to be more middle of the road or harder to read. It's an eclectic assortment and they are all fascinating to watch, I took great joy at drinking in their nuances and made the first part of the film a real treat.
Surprisingly, when the film first started to slow down was when The Hunger Games started. I've got to say the way the games start is completely exhilarating and sad, but shortly after that the film slows down before eventually picking up again.
It's great fun to watch Jennifer Lawrence, who is just sexy and beautiful here (I couldn't take my eyes off her and the different outfits she wore, the fashion on display in the Hunger Games is fantastic), have to think her way through the games. She has a few keynote scenes which I wont mention here for obvious spoiler reasons, but you'll know them when you see them. I really liked her reaction to the discovery that Peeta has a crush on her and her eventual give in to her own bottled up emotions with him. It's really touching and one of the few romances that I actually was emotionally invested in ( super rare), not to mention that Katniss also has a guy friend back in her district so eventually (not in this film, but most likely in the next) she will have to choose between the two. It's also interesting to ponder how their romance will end since, after all, there can only be one victor in the end.
Another surprise that made a difference were her friends and family (especially her sister's) reaction to Katniss volunteering. Katniss knows that this may be a death sentence, but she refuses to show any weakness in front of her family and friends, one of her defining character traits in the film that is eventually striped away as Katniss faces several huge challenges in the games. It's great to see Katniss eventually completely break down during a character defining moment during the game, once again I cannot say what that moment is but you'll know it when you see it (the scene actually choked me up quite a bit).
Josh Hutcherson as Peeta is also great, I loved his reaction when he is chosen as the second tribute for his district. He is visibly shaken, fully aware that he most likely is going to meet his end in the Games. He's not as strong of an actor as Lawrence here, but he still easily holds his own and succeeds in making you care about him and his fate.
The action and kills in the Hunger Games is actually quite brutal for a PG-13, unfortunately it is kind of hard to make out exactly what is going on in these portions due to some bad shaky action camera work. You literally have to pay close attention to make out exactly what is going on. This was the only negative aspect of the film, as soon as the shaky cam started I thought: please God, don't let this be the way they film every action/fight scene. Sure enough, it is. It did frustrate me a great deal, but compared to the rest of the film it's only a moderate set back.
The Hunger Games is a beautifully realized vision of a bleak and colorful future, it is also a thrilling action-adventure sci-fi film. The Hunger Games balances both of these aspects perfectly, creating a beautiful and interesting blend that is downright hard to tear your eyes away from. I'm interested to see if there may be any Oscar nods for Lawrence, Hutcherson, Tucci or the film itself in the near future, I think it deserves at least a few. The Hunger Games is easily a new sci-fi classic for5 Stars/5 Stars- BETTER THAN SEX the 21st century. May the odds be ever in your favor.