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The Hunger Games
First run Theater cinema

The first in yet-another trilogy of best-selling fantasy novels turned into film franchises, The Hunger Games was the most eagerly anticipated film of the summer. As someone who has not read any of Suzanne Collin’s young adult novels, I can only judge the film on its merits as a film—rather than as an adaptation—and I found it moderately engaging but lacking in several respects.  It has a good premises and an exciting central character, but the world created on film is pretty insubstantial. The film presents a future that's both totally goofy and darkly sadistic at the same time, creating an imbalance of tone that I found frustrating. The costume and hair design concepts for the  dystopian society are supposed to feel like throw-backs to 70s sci-fi, I guess, but they look pretty dumb in a movie that takes itself as seriously as this one does.

Perhaps it is the result of the YA source material, but the lack of logic in the narrative and the film’s failure to make clear the specific mechanics of the actual games themselves put me off. Still, Jennifer Lawrence (the terrific lead in 2009’s Winter’s Bone) makes an compelling action hero. Her Katniss Everdeen, is a soft-spoken teen-warrior and the reluctant star of a televised fight to the death. Several of the other young actors are also quiet strong. The rest of the cast is rounded out by big-names who do what they can with their small parts, ranging from the entertaining reality-show host, played winningly by Stanley Tucci, to the boorish trainer, played by the tiresome Woody Harrison.

The weakest link in this film is director Gary Ross, the writer of Big and Dave and director of Pleasantville and Seabiscuit. He’s the wrong choice for an action film like this and rarely finds the right place to put his the camera. The fight scenes are all terrible for a film that's ABOUT fighting. Since these are teen-age kids fighting to the death, it would require a very skilled hand to stage these sequences and still get a PG-13 rating. But all Ross seems capable of is shaking the camera around in an attempt to make the fights feel violent without being violent. There are far better ways to convey this type of action in a movie aimed mainly at younger kids. Ross falls down completely at the climax which is so dark, rainy and erratically photographed that it would be impossible to follow except for the fact that we know what will happen—even if we haven’t read the book.

Still, the set-up and conclusion of the film are strong and actually made me look forward to the next film (especially knowing that Ross won’t be helming it). The film is also very interesting in its exploration of gender roles in this futuristic society, where the hero is a young girl who hunts to provide for her family and who leaves behind her potential love-interest to go on this epic quest.

Collins' book and the film were roundly accused of plagiarizing the premise of the great 2000 Japanese film Battle Royal and its source novel. Collins claims to have had no knowledge of either when she wrote her trilogy, but one can certainly see how that case could be made. However, where Battle Royal is more of a fable aimed at adults and concentrates on large themes, The Hunger Games focuses more on its characters and their relationships. I think theHunger Games movie could have done a lot more with its premise but it did get me curious to read the books.

Directed by Gary Ross
Produced by Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik

Screenplay by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray
Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins

With: Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Paula Malcomson, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Amandla Stenberg, Dayo Okeniyi, Leven Rambin, Jack Quaid, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, and Willow Shields

Cinematography: Tom Stern
Editing: Christopher S. Capp, Stephen Mirrione, and Juliette Welfling
Music: James Newton Howard

Runtime: 142 min
Release Date: 23 March 2012
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1