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Published: 2012-03-22 - 07:50:08
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The Hunger Games Review

By Joe Lozito

Child's Prey

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There should be a support group for filmmakers who adapt beloved material. The stress must be overwhelming. Do you stay loyal to the material and please hardcore fans while risking alienating newbies and sacrificing good visual storytelling? Or do you completely re-imagine the source and court the possibility of offending both camps?

The heir to the "next great franchise" throne is Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games", a trilogy of young adult novels set in a dystopian future where children are annually selected to fight to the death during the titular contest. The novels are not your typical YA fare, though there is a love triangle between preposterously-named heroine Katniss Everdeen and two troubled beaus - brooding activist Gale and misunderstood baker's son Peeta - but "Games" has some real darkness, science fiction, and political allegory at its heart.

And so, the job of "Games" adaptation director Gary Ross is not an easy one. Saddled with a typically rabid fanbase and a PG-13 rating, he has his work cut out for him. Happily, Mr. Ross, as he has shown in his previous efforts ("Pleasantville", "Seabiscuit"), is no stranger to pleasing crowds while remaining mildly, if not entirely, edgy. He makes solidly good films, if not great ones. And his "Games" is no exception. The film is about the best possible "Hunger Games" adaptation you could want while satisfying a mass audience. Which means, it is loyal to the material (at the expense of length and pacing), satisfies its PG-13 rating (at the expense of real brutality) and remains a crowd-pleaser (at the expense of true darkness).

But as faithful as the film is (some sequences are rendered almost verbatim from the book) and as visually interesting as it is (the garish rainbow hues of Ms. Collins' Capitol city are nicely tinged with menace), Mr. Ross' real achievement may be in casting. There isn't a misstep in the bunch, and they are too numerous to list here. Suffice to say that Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz and Wes Bentley all create vibrant characters that do justice to the books without being cartoonish. Special mention must go to Donald Sutherland, who sinks his teeth into the evil President Snow like a ripe plum, and young Amandla Stenberg is every bit as moving as she should be as wily contestant Rue. Likewise, Liam Hemsworth and, in particular, Josh Hutcherson, satisfy the two male sides of the hunky love triangle without being too, shall we say, Pattinson-esque. As drunken mentor Haymich Abernathy, Woody Harrelson has rarely been more perfectly cast (and that's really saying something). And Jennifer Lawrence, despite being too physically robust for the role, has acting chops to spare and proves to be a worthy Katniss.

The film is ironically at its best during the build up to the Games. Despite the best efforts of the script, which Mr. Ross and Ms. Collins co-wrote, the film drags in the arena when it should be escalating - this is perhaps due to its rating as much as its pacing. The absence of any truly shocking violence is a double-edged sword: it spares the viewer the intensity of watching children kill each other but it also lowers the stakes of the action (this is particularly true of the vicious Cornucopia sequence which degenerates into a hand-held blur). But one can hardly fault Mr. Ross his choice since he delivers the goods without crossing into exploitation (if you're wondering what you're missing, go rent Japan's "Battle Royale"). And with two more novels to adapt, his "Games" is likely to leave fans and newbies alike hungry for more.

What did you think?

Movie title The Hunger Games
Release year 2012
MPAA Rating PG-13
Our rating
Summary Director Gary Ross' solid adaptation aims to please fans and a mass audience alike, which is a double-edged sword. And a surprisingly blunt, bloodless one.
View all articles by Joe Lozito
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