Review: 'The Hunger Games'
BY MICHAEL SMITH World Scene Writer
Friday, March 23, 2012
3/23/12 at 10:41 AM
"May the odds be ever in your favor" may have been the thinking in making a movie out of the beloved young-adult series of "The Hunger Games" books, but it seemed a long shot that the picture could be this good, this intelligent, and this haunting.
When books with fanatical followings become films, the tendency is to dwell on what's missing, what's been added. "The Hunger Games" rises above such nitpicking.
Writer-director Gary Ross adapts the material with a nip here, a tuck there and an eye focused on the seriousness of the themes: humanity, friendship and love in a world that fights to keep people from enjoying such basic freedoms.
He is aided greatly through exceptional art direction and performances, with Jennifer Lawrence creating an indelible character in Katniss Everdeen, the 16-year-old heroine of Suzanne Collins' books, an ordinary girl whom the world is watching under extraordinary circumstances.
The science-fiction allegory set in a dystopian future is wicked in both its bottom line and its ability to make us see how a world can devolve into such despair.
The story is set in what used to be the U.S., with a government that sadistically punishes its people.
This is Panem, with a centrally located Capitol city of opulence populated with wealthy, fashion-forward elitists. The Capitol is ringed by 12 districts of varying industrial focuses and poverty levels who work to supply Panem with goods and entertainment in the form of the Hunger Games.
This annual rite begins with the Reaping, a lottery process in which one boy and girl, between the ages of 12 and 18, are selected from each of 12 districts to play in these deadly games televised to the masses.
It's the equivalent of "American Idol" and "Dancing With the Stars" rolled into one for the Capitol's residents, while the districts' men, women and children watch with a none-too-subtle reminder: Your uprising made this grisly game-show necessary.
Collins' books are political by nature. What slowly unfolds in her trilogy must be more overt in Ross' film: That's 24 kids placed in a giant arena, forced to fight for their survival until only one winner remains.
The outline may remind some of "The Most Dangerous Game" or Stephen King's "The Running Man," but this grotesque idea is more relevant than ever. Remember when we questioned the very nature of "reality programming," as in how far would it go, before our apathy set in?
Ross focuses his story on two emotions: fear, as in government tactics, and hope, the "only thing stronger than fear," says Panem's slimy president played by a leering Donald Sutherland.
He wants to suppress any faith the public may put in Katniss, the "volunteer Tribute" who warmed people's hearts first when she took her 12-year-old sister's place to compete in the Hunger Games.
The elaborate production of staging the pomp of the games - turning country-girl Katniss with her bow-and-arrow hunting skills into a "character" suitable for TV, a fashionista in a literal fiery dress with an army of stylists - is fabulous filmmaking.
The interview sessions for telecasts (a blue-wigged Stanley Tucci as host, fawning comically like a dystopian Graham Norton) as well as the invented relationship (or is it?) between Katniss and Peeta, the boy from her district, are perfect. They frame the poor, doomed children in the most romantic light for viewers, keeping their minds off the true reality of the death matches to come and the Tributes' starving families back home.
Ross, whose films "Pleasantville" and "Seabiscuit" similarly showcased underdogs and young people who captured the public's fascination, is best with the film's many quiet moments of reflection.
Action furiously combines with allegory in this tale once the violent games begin. This staging is more muted from the book's description of the violence, and the intensity is difficult to replicate.
In turn, from a visual standpoint, Lawrence makes Katniss' archery look dangerous and never looks less than believable with her laser-focus. It is a kind of command that she showed in her Oscar-nominated "Winter's Bone" performance, and Katniss is infused with this power.
Woody Harrelson is supportive but never sentimental as the drunken mentor to Katniss and Peeta. Lenny Kravitz is quiet-cool as super-stylist Cinna. Josh Hutcherson, in the important role of Peeta, handles the humorous moments more deftly than those with a depth of emotion.
But it is nearly impossible to imagine another young actress in this role being as subtle as Lawrence, whether she's taking aim at a victim or singing a lullaby to quell a little girl's fears. This arena is not about high-fiving victories, but survival in its purest form.
"The Hunger Games" is a superbly frank look at lives in the balance, and how to live a life of honor in the face of those who look to control your humanity.
Parental guidance note on film's violent scenes
"The Hunger Games" features a survival contest with 24 children between the ages of 12 and 18 competing until only one survives. There are brutally intense scenes, fierce weapons and bloodshed. That said, the violence shown does not exceed a PG-13 level.
There is little difference in the graphic images from what one might see on a CBS crime procedural like "CSI" and others, so parents might base their viewing decisions for their youngest children attending "The Hunger Games" on how much they limit their exposure to such programs.
‘THE HUNGER GAMES’
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam
Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks,
Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci
Theaters: IMAX at Cinemark Tulsa and AMC
Southroads 20; Cinemark Broken Arrow,
RiverWalk, Owasso, Eton Square, Sand Springs,
Starworld 20, Moviestar Cinema
Running time: 2 hours, 22 minutes
Rated: PG-13 (intense violent thematic material
and disturbing images — all involving teens)
Quality: overall (on a scale of zero to four
Original Print Headline: Advent of a heroine
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen, the 16-year-old heroine of Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" trilogy, an ordinary girl whom the world is watching under extraordinary circumstances. Courtesy
Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence, left) is a unique young-adult heroine in that she shows no interest in romantic entanglements, despite the best efforts of her friend Gale Hawthorne (played by Liam Hemsworth, right) and fellow Hunger Games competitor Peeta Mellark. Courtesy