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Friday, March 23, 2012

For the sake of not having to write the same intro a million different ways throughout the rest of time, just know that this column avoids the overly long and sometimes dull process of full film reviews and instead opts to break things down based on what I thought going in, what happened while I was there and what I learned at the end of it all.  Thanks for reading!

The Breakdown - The Hunger Games

The Impression:

A former colleague of mine pretty much forced me to read Suzanne Collins first book in The Hunger Games trilogy and though I was scoffed at by my loving spouse, I plowed through and came out all shit-eating grins and yearning for the second book. Gary Ross isnít a favorite director of mine (though I do love Pleasantville and Dave) and I think his rendition of the great non-fiction book Seabiscuit is pretty muddled, Iím excited to see what the man can do with Collinsí more-than-adult young adult novel about future gladiator games between children.

The Reality:

People will walk in to The Hunger Games hoping to compare it to Harry Potter and hoping to compare it to the Japanese gorefest Battle Royale. It does, minutely, but only superficially. The film is about a group of children hand-picked to kill each other in a predetermined location driven by ruthless gamemasters and yes the film does come from a beloved young adult fiction series. The similarities die there. In the distant future after a terrible rebellion, the nation of Panem has been split in to 12 Districts, each unique, each roiling with interminable class conflict. To mark the anniversary of the revolution each year the Districts send two of their children to The Hunger Games, brutal blood sports watched by each and every person in the nation. Katniss Everdine (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers when her young, weak sister is selected, and we follow her journey through the trials of training and then the eventual Hunger Games themselves. Gary Ross could turned this in to a pretty stupid kidís movie by excising what makes the book should thrilling - the killing of children by children - but he doesnít. Instead he chooses to make each death as brutal for the audience as it seems to be for the participants. Sure, many of the killings happen off screen to characters we barely know (the movie is focused entirely around Katniss Everdine and her tribulations) but Ross manages to make each one sting, both for us and the characters. Jennifer Lawrence shines in her role as Katniss Everdine, a young girl hardened by a life of saving her family from near-starvation but still tinged with the emotions of a high school girl. Sheís tough and adept with weapons and nurturing and intelligence, and Lawrence brings all of this to the surface. When the film follows her (and for the most part it does) it zips along at a bulls charge pace, buoyed the exceptional cinematography of Tom Stern, but when badly cast Josh Hutcherson (the oafish Peeta Malark) sneaks in as a possible love interest, the film becomes listless. Luckily this is only for a brief moment near the end, and Ross quickly finds his groove again and knocks out a breathless ending that leaves you slack-jawed waiting for more. And waiting for more I am. When does this next film come out?

The Lesson:

Childrenís books can be adapted in to weighty pictures for adults and their offspring alike!

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