Theatrical Review: THE HUNGER GAMES (Melissa’s Take)

Whether you’re a faithful devotee of author Suzanne Collins, a casual fan, or looking for a Friday night flick at your local cinema, THE HUNGER GAMES adequately satisfies on all fronts. Set in a near-future dystopia in the former U.S.A., there now exists the country of Panem; an oppressive regime divided into 12 districts ruled by the totalitarian Capitol.  Annually, its citizens are punished for their former uprising via a death tournament named The Hunger Games, in which one teenage girl and boy from each district are selected to participate. The forced participants, or "tributes", are then inducted into a televised, frenzied, propaganda-fueled death match. Imagine a Super Bowl of blood and guts where 24 enter and one victor leaves.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is the strong female protagonist we’ve anxiously been waiting for; a huntress who uses her bow, arrow, wits, and will to fend for and feed her family. She has a close friendship with her attractive friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Don’t fear! Katniss is more reminiscent of Hit-Girl from KICK-ASS as opposed to TWILIGHT's heroine Bella Swan.

Intellectually, Katniss understands that she doesn’t have time to indulge in romantic fantasies and instead prefers to focus (with razor precision) on survival, while still retaining an open heart. Both strength and determination are apparent when she risks her life by volunteering to participate in the tournament in place of her younger sister Primrose (being a big sister myself, I have to root for selfless sacrifice).  It is these virtues that propel the audience to become emotionally involved in her tribulations, rooting for her ultimate survival.

Jennifer Lawrence is so effective right from the start of THE HUNGER GAMES that I couldn’t imagine anyone else as Katniss; her cool confidence and soulful eyes allowed me to connect personally. I found myself asking questions like, "What would it feel like if I had to compete? How would I handle the media scrutiny? What would my weapon of choice be?" I’m actually inspired to learn how to use a bow and arrow now. Although, if I was forced to compete, I wouldn't want to end up being attacked by killer mutant wasps.

THE HUNGER GAMES has some excellent supporting performances. Josh Hutcherson's endearing Peeta Mellark finds a balance between cocky teenage charm and emotional vulnerability. Their relationship is convincing and does not compromise the core strength of Katniss as an independent female, since it could be argued that their connection serves as a tool to further their survival and justifying a need for romance. Woody Harrelson as the fluttery-haired Haymitch Abernathy plays a boozy, broken down winner of a past Hunger Game who mentors Katniss and Peeta.  Stanley Tucci dazzles as the flamboyant games commentator, Caesar Flickerman, whose fulsome disposition and blue hair does not diminish his sympathies for the teenage tributes. Elizabeth Banks’ character Effie Trinket triumphantly summons the ghost of Marie Antoinette. Effie serves as an example of the wealthy, superficial people of the Capitol who turn a blind eye to the horrific realities by indulging in pure amusement and cakes. Donald Sutherland delivers as President Snow, a calculating, malevolent ruler whose awareness of the district’s fears and hopes lays the groundwork for a worthy villain. Rocker Lenny Kravitz (underused here) charms as Cinna, the designer and confidant who literally sets Katniss (well, her dress) on fire.

Director Gary Ross’ (SEABISCUIT, PLEASANTVILLE) indie approach to this film helps focus the narrative and visual style, allowing the audience an opportunity to connect to the characters. Instead of it being a buffet of gratuitous visual effects, it has an independent tonality that keeps the audience grounded. This substantiates the notion that one doesn’t need to spend the extra money watching 3-D to feel immersed in a 2-D world. Screenwriter Gary Ross did his darndest to respect the details in Suzanne Collins' novels, down to Cinna’s (Lenny Kravitz) gold guyliner and Effie Trinket’s frou frou wigs. Furthermore, he succeeds in drawing parallel comparisons between our current society and that of the media monster, reality television-obsessed world of THE HUNGER GAMES. (Bringing to mind the mantra of the ever-popular Survivor television show: "Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.")

If you’re expecting a Battle Royale meets Tarantino-like hack-and-slash gore fest during the actual Hunger Games event, you will be disappointed. Director Gary Ross implemented the shaky-cam technique to cheat the kill scenes in order to ensure a more youth-friendly PG-13 rating.  The movie is called THE HUNGER GAMES, and while I was expecting the characters to be hungry they looked more like healthy, nubile young people who neglect to eat even when food is presented.  I wanted more of Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who didn't have enough screen time, sadly.  Regardless of whether you’re Team Gale or Team Peeta, I found myself left longing for heavier sexual heat between Katniss and Peeta.

THE HUNGER GAMES is not the next TWILIGHT - it is actually much better. Suzanne Collins’ vision has been executed with due respect, generating a need for the 'three finger salute' District 12-style. So get out there and have “A Happy Hunger Games.”

 

Grade: A

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