Friday, January 23, 2015

Movie Review: The Hunger Games

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Tackles a hard story with the right tone; wonderful lead character; much to think about
Cons: Some of the directorial choices; for some the tone
The Bottom Line:
Fighting for her life
Katniss gives us stuff to think
About when finished

I Finally Take the Plunge into the World of The Hunger Games

It’s been hard for the last few years to not hear about The Hunger Games.  Even before the movies started coming out, everyone who read talked about the books.  While I have been holding out on reading them or watching the movies, I knew at some point I’d see what all the buzz is about.  The first movie being on ABC Family last weekend was just the push I needed to plunge into this world.

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is a typical teenager – at least in her world.  She is part of district 12, one of the outlying regions in Panem.  While the wealth is located in the capital, the rest of the country struggles to survive.  And every year, two teens, a boy and a girl, are randomly chosen from each district to compete in a brutal contest to the death until only one of them remains.

As the movie opens, it is once again time for the lottery.  When her sister is chosen, Katniss volunteers to take her place.  Taken to the capital along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a boy she’s known all her life, she must suddenly figure how to compete for her very life.  That includes being nice and getting sponsors who might help her during the games, something she is not very good at.  But even with help, will Katniss be able to overcome the odds and survive the Hunger Games themselves?

Since I haven’t read the books, I am coming to the movie with no preconceived ideas of how the story should be told, so you won’t find any complaints about changes from the book here.  However, I did find the story a little hard to get into.  Part of it, I’m sure, is the fact that character development is one thing always cut when a book is made into a movie.  (Okay, fine, a book to movie comparison.)  Plus, I knew how the story would have to end, at least partially, so I didn’t allow myself to get too emotionally invested in the majority of the characters.  Still, I did find the killing in the movie hard to watch, which I’m sure was the point.  Unlike slasher movies (which I do enjoy upon occasion), this movie rightly makes the killing something horrible to be reviled even though each death means Katniss is closer to winning.  The violence wasn’t graphic (at least on TV), but it was still rightfully hard to watch.

Honestly, this dichotomy has been one reason I’ve been hesitant to read the books.  I knew I’d struggle with all the death, again weird since I do read murder mysteries most of the time.  The story definitely treats the entire thing as something truly evil, as it should be, with those who celebrate the games being monsters, again as it should be.  The result is something deeper to think about when you are done with the movie.

I am thrilled to see what a great character Katniss is.  She is a selfless young woman who sacrifices for her sister.  When the games begin, she actually goes out of her way to avoid killing, only killing in self-defense and even doing her best to protect one of the youngest competitors for a time.  Mind you, she has the skills to take out the others if she has to, but she doesn’t do it unless absolutely forced to do so.  It is easy to get behind her as a result, and I was glad to see such a wonderful role model in the story.

The cast does a great job with their various roles.  Again, I came to this with no preconceived ideas of how anyone should look or act, but I thought the actors were great at bringing their characters to life.  I especially enjoyed Woody Harrelson as the only winner from District 12 who then mentors Katniss and Peeta before the games begin.  Jennifer Lawrence carries much of the movie, and she is wonderful as Katniss.

The director chose to go with the shaky camera work for the film, a technique I hate.  Fortunately, on the small screen, it didn’t bother me too much, although all the quick cuts at times made it hard to tell exactly what was happening.  That’s my biggest complaint about the film.  I also thought a few of the cut aways to other locations slowed down the story.

I think my reaction to the film fits how I thought I would feel about the franchise.  Still, I am curious how the series progresses, so I will be on the lookout for the sequel to The Hunger Games so I can watch it soon.

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