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“Hunger Games:” The Odds are in Your Favor

Tears, bloodshed, fame, fortune … this could describe the Hunger Games or any other “reality” show on television these days.

The latest tween-book-series-turned-film “The Hunger Games,” based on Suzanne Collins series by the same name, is already tearing up the box office with record sales. There’s a reason for that, it’s a really good movie. Fans of the book, and cinema in general, won’t be disappointed.

For those who don’t know what it’s about, “The Hunger Games” is set in a future version of our world called Panem. After a massive uprising against the government, the country was divided into 13 districts. Each year, to remind the people of its power and control, The Capitol chooses two teens from each district, one boy and one girl, to fight to the death in the Hunger Games. It’s the television event of the year.

In richer districts being chosen as a “tribute” is an honor. In poorer districts the people aren’t quite as enthusiastic about being fed to the slaughter for the public’s viewing pleasure. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), from District 12 (the poorest district), volunteers to go in after her younger sister’s name is drawn. The movie follows her struggle to stay alive.

Before I go any further, yes, I’ve read the books. As a fan of the series I was happy with how faithful the film was to the original material. It’s impossible to cram a 400+ page book into two hours. For the most part, the changes that were made enhance the movie.

A couple key elements were left out. I think the filmmakers are relying a little too heavily on the entire audience having also read the book. For instance, the mockingingjay pin plays a key element in the movie but it’s never explained why. We’re never told that it’s a failed genetic mutation of The Capitol that has become a symbol of rebellion in the districts. (Which is kinda important.)

Perhaps this will get explained in the sequel, or maybe word will just spread with all the people asking, “What’s with the bird?”

These issues aside, the movie does a good job of rounding out the world of Panem, especially The Capitol, and adds depth to some of the supporting characters in the world. Where the book stays with Katniss the entire time and her inner monologue, in the film we get the chance to leave the games arena and see the reactions across the country. As well as an insider’s look into the gamemakers headquarters, and an introduction to the pure evilness of the President (Donald Sutherland).

If you don’t care about the  book-to-screen translation the movie is still really well made. The cinematography is fantastic. Great care was taken into creating the world of Panem and the stark difference between the poverty in District 12 to the lush lives of Capitol residents.

The somber lives of the district is reflected in the color palette and and the fact that everyone is dressed like extras from “The Grapes of Wrath.” The Capitol uses rich, bright colors to reflect its status in the world.

My favorite element of the film is the casting. Though Jennifer Lawrence is about five years too old to capture Katniss’ youth, she does capture her heart and makes made her character more likeable for me. On the page, you’re inside Katniss’ head the entire time and sometimes I just wanted to slap her. She’s too in her head, almost too innocent and honest. You win the games by becoming a character people root for and she never grasps that concept. On the screen, we’re spared the inner head trip and can just appreciate Katniss’ actions.

Josh Hutcherson, as Peeta Mellark, the other District 12 contestant, is wonderful. He’s who I imagined while reading the series and captures his character perfectly. He loves Katniss and his character has to find the balance of those feelings while playing the game for the cameras and playing the game physically.

We’re also given a good introduction to Gale Hawthorne, a District 12 resident and Katniss’ other love interest. We’ll see more of him in later films and Liam Hemsworth does a good of making him a character we want to know more about.

The real charm of this film comes from its supporting characters. EspeciallyWoody Harrelson, as Katniss’ mentor Haymitch, is a brash, loud-mouth drunk. He gets the film’s best lines and steals every scene. He is by far, my favorite character. While others may declare themselves of Team Peeta or Team Gale, I’m Team Haymitch all the way! But is it really that surprising that a man whose career started as a bartender (“Cheers”) is so good at playing drunk?

Stanley Tucci, as Caesar Flickerman, serves as the games commentator and has all the charm of the cheesiest game show host you can think of. His character is given an expanded role in the film which I enjoyed. Donald Sutherland is evil incarnate. Elizabeth Banks is almost unrecognizable as Capitol chaperone and Miss Manners herself Effie Trinket. Wes Bentley gets the coolest beard as Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane, which on screen is a fully fleshed out character on the screen that we both love and hate at times. And Lenny Kravitz, in his acting debut, as Katniss’ stylist Cinna, delivers an incredibly heartfelt performance.

Despite a few minor qualms, like too much shaky-cam for my taste, I still recommend this movie to everyone. If you’re a fan of the books, you’ve already seen the movie. If you just want to go see a good movie, wait a couple weeks for all the hoopla to die down and then go check out “The Hunger Games” and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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