Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is the story of Ms. Pacman, a perfectly spherical woman taken by her government and forced to navigate a maze, hounded relentlessly by colorful ghosts and forced to subsist on tasteless white pellets, only occasionally given the nutritious reprieve of a cherry or, if she's lucky, a banana.

What? That's not The Hunger Games? Let's start over.

Seriously though, I'm weeks late on this, so what can be said about The Hunger Games that hasn't been said already by everyone else on the internet? I liked it. I didn't love it, but I thought it felt immediate and mostly effective.

The Hunger Games is the story of Katniss Everdeen, a resourceful sixteen year old girl who must fight for her life against 23 other teens in a sort of gladiator battle for the entertainment of the foppish, ruling class in the Capital. Along the way, she plants the seeds for dissent in the increasingly dissatisfied poor of America's dystopian future, divided into twelve districts.

I need say no more because you've probably seen it already, read the bestselling book, or have no interest in it whatsoever.

The Hunger Games is directed by Gary Ross, best known by me for writing and directing Pleasantville, a really great movie by my estimation. The performances of the cast are all around impressive, especially Jennifer Lawrence in her role as Katniss. Josh Hutcherson surprised me as, Peeta, her partner/opponent in the games, who professes his love for her on national television. Elizabeth Banks is hilarious as Effie Trinkett, Katniss and Peeta's clueless liaison with the capital, and Woody Harrelson is underused as their drunken mentor Haymitch. I assume he'll get some great stuff in the sequels.

The movie manages to be intense and entertaining for the most part, despite being bound to and neutered by the bloodless, largely off camera violence of a PG-13 rating. Gary Ross does a decent job of working around these limitations. I honestly felt he could have pushed it even further without risking the rating, but I'm guessing the MPAA had particular issues with the fact that it was kids doing all the killing.

My main problem with The Hunger Games was with the way it was put together. The book, which, yes, I have read, is told entirely from Katniss' point of view, and once she's in the games, she has no idea what's going on in the outside world. All that matters is her own survival. It's what made the book such a page turner. In the case of the film adaptation, they frequently cut away from Katniss' struggle to Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones as the television announcers, providing all the exposition necessary to keep the story going. We also get a lot of cutaways to the Wes Bentley as the designer of the games, calling the shots in the control room. I understand that some exposition is necessary since not all moviegoers have read the book, but each time they cut outside of the games, the movie lost a little bit more of its punch.

And if I'm going to compare it to the books, I should probably point out that there were some plot points from the book that were actually improved in the adaptation into film. Katniss' badge of a Mockingjay, for example, which becomes a nationwide symbol of dissent, is now given to her by her sister, instead of some girl she went to school with but didn't really know.

Overall, I was happy with The Hunger Games. I'm looking forward to the next one. By the way, whoever owns the Ms. Pacman movie rights, call me. I have a pitch that could make you millions.

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