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New Release Review - The Hunger Games

Directed by: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Liam Hemsworth


Joshua's take:

I am no Hunger Games nerd.  That is to say, I read the books, but I am not obsessed by them.  I didn't even like the second two that much.  I did however like the first book in the series.  Quite a bit actually.  So it came as a surprise to me when I enjoyed the movie even more than the book.
In case you have, somehow, missed reading the book(s), The Hunger Games is an annual event that occurs in a not-so-future-future time, when one girl and boy from each district (24 children in all) are randomly selected to battle to the death in a glamorous and ferocious televised event.  Katniss (Lawrence) volunteers as a tribute when her younger sister, Prim, is selected to be in the Hunger Games.  Now Katniss must somehow survive the treacheries of the Hunger Games and show the Capitol she is no pawn in their game.
The Hunger Games is, as one would expect, extremely intense, children heartlessly killing each other to survive.  And it goes beyond shooting from afar.  Combat occurs within tripping distance.  Slashing of knives, snapping of necks, all these duels between children between the ages of 12 and 18.  
But The Hunger Games is PG-13 (as opposed to R), so the violence is portrayed in a way in which you don't see much of the actual killing.  You just know what is implied.  The camera is placed at strategic angles so that you may see some blood and the attack, but not the knife or the ax digging into the child's flesh.  Actually, it's all very tame, considering the subject.  I'm not the kind of person that can watch a lot of gore, so this was perfectly fine with me.
Now that I've got all that boring stuff regarding the violence out of the way, I can start sharing my opinion on the film:  As of now, The Hunger Games is the best movie I've seen this year.
There were two points in the movie in which I ALMOST cried.  I held back tears, for certain.  And it wasn't easy.  The Hunger Games is very emotional.
The camera is very shaky.  The movie often feels like a found-footage film.  At first, the shaky camera irritated me.  But within 10 minutes, I had become so connected with the movie, that I didn't even notice the camera.
In the first half (before the actual games begin), there is a decent amount of humor.  This is not a comedy, so don't expect to be in stitches, but there are some mild laughs.  Almost all of these come from the Capitol's lightheartedness towards the Hunger Games.  They laugh and joke about it.  It is important to them, but they don't give a second thought about the 23 people who will die as a result.
The casting is marvelous.  Everyone does a wonderful job portraying their characters.  Before seeing the movie, I was a bit skeptical at some of the actor choices, but all the doubt washed away as each character appeared on screen.
Also, the makeup and costumes are incredible.  They're so ridiculously silly looking (intentionally), and it just feels perfect.  Truly well done.
The score is equally wonderful.  The music is powerful, and during the games, adds invaluable amounts of tension.  Hats off to the composers.
The action is tense.  Your pulse will most certainly quicken.  In addition to other competitors, there are tracker jackers (genetically engineered wasps), dog-like wolves, and fire.  Lots of fire.  There are plenty of plot twists that will certainly shock those who haven't read the book.
This movie is emotional, tense, and overall, wonderful.  I do have a few minor nitpicks, specifically regarding character interaction.
Cinna doesn't get enough screen time.  We just don't feel the relationship between him and Katniss like we did in the book.  President Snow doesn't seem quite as menacing as he is in the book, though he's evil enough.
Also, the romance portion of the film is disappointingly cheesy.  Teenage girls in the audience certainly fell for it, but I often rolled my eyes. 
Also, the ending isn't a true ending.  We get a hook for a sequel.  It's not so much a cliffhanger, it's just a "To be continued."  I didn't mind too much, and fans of the book won't either, but I suspect there will be some who will be irritated by this. 
The Hunger Games has a few flaws, but in the end, it's the best film of the year so far.  Fantastic story, lots of emotion, good action, believable acting, superb score, amazing makeup and costumes, need I go on?  Simply put, The Hunger Games is a must see.  I was originally uninterested in the sequels, but this movie was so good, I may rethink skipping them.
May the odds ever be in your favor, and happy Hunger Games!
9/10

Eric's take:

First of all let's call a spade a spade; this is for all intents and purposes an English language rehash of Kinji Fukasaku's "Battle Royale". In it's depiction of a sporting event designed to appease the masses it owes a lot to Paul Bartel's "Death Race 2000", especially in it's costume and production design. This is 2012 though, there just aren't many new ideas left, and in fairness this is a movie that wears it's influences on it's sleeve.
I'm struggling to recall a performance by a young actress as impressive as Lawrence here. The rest of the cast are made to look over the top and amateurish when next to her. If the term "Brandoesque" can be applied to an actress it's fitting in this case. Watching her at work here is like seeing a great football player in an otherwise average team. She literally carries the movie on her young shoulders. There's a scene where she is perfectly still except for her lower lip and it makes you realise just how much over-acting there is in modern cinema. She's absolutely stunning too, carrying a few more pounds than the typical waif-like young starlets, and if  I had a  teenage daughter I'd much rather she model herself on Lawrence than some vacuous idiot like Miley Cyrus.
Unfortunately director Ross does his best to ruin all her good work, employing a ridiculously shaky cam that renders large parts of the movie close to unwatchable. His only previous directorial credits are "Pleasantville" and "Seabiscuit", a comedy and a drama about a racehorse. How does this qualify him to direct what is essentially an action movie? This is an annoying pattern following Marc Foster and Kenneth Branagh with "Quantum Of Solace" and "Thor" respectively. Hollywood producers seem to think by hiring a dramatic director it lends class to their blockbuster. It doesn't. We get the same result every time one of these out of depth film-makers gets a big project: shaky cam and quick cuts. You see they have no idea how to shoot an action scene so they just blind us with bad editing and camerawork, hoping it creates a sense of excitement. It doesn't. As if shaky cam wasn't enough, Ross stages his final set piece in darkness so you literally have to squint to try and follow the action. With it's mix of satire and violence this seems like the ideal project for Paul Verhoeven, though I doubt he would have delivered a PG cut.
If you're a young fan of the books you'll probably enjoy this a lot. If, like me, you're coming to this fresh and want some old school dystopian sci-fi, you'll be merely reasonably sated. 
6/10




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