Thursday, March 22, 2012


Review by James Colt Harrison

Despite the distasteful theme of teen-agers hunting and killing other teens, The Hunger Games is the most anticipated film of the year for fans of the Suzanne Collins book trilogy.

Because of a rebellion 70 years ago, the nation of Panem has risen like a phoenix out of the ruins of what used to be the United States. To keep the people from uprising again, a raffle is held in which a boy and girl ages 12-18 from each district must fight to the death, with the winner never having to worry about food or shelter ever again.

Most of the populace looks as though they are dressed in dowdy clothes of the 1930s Depression and are former residents of the Ozarks. But somehow Katniss Everdeen (a brown-haired Jennifer Lawrence) has turned out to be a natural teen-age beauty. She should have changed her name to “Katnip” as all the boys are meowing all night long in hopes of being her ball of yarn. Those boys include handsome Australian Liam Hemsworth (Gale), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta), and Alexander Ludwig (Cato).

Katniss is spunky, fierce, intelligent, skilled, and determined. She volunteers to take the place of her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) in the games. Katniss and Peeta will represent their district against bigger and older contestants, or “tributes,” in the games. It’s rare that Hollywood takes chances on a female to be the lead in a $100 million film, but Lawrence at 20 takes the whole film on her shoulders. Had she not been capable, the film might have fallen with a thud, but she’s up to the task and is magnetic. Initially rather shy when thrust into the forest to hide or kill, Katniss gradually evolves into someone to contend with as she is skilled with the bow and arrow. The film cleverly shows, or doesn’t show, Katniss actually killing people, so we are not rebuffed by her character. She’s tough, she’s clever, and she’s smart enough to stay alive by doing what she must.

Peeta, it seems, played a significant role in Katniss’ younger life when she was starving. In some flashbacks, we see the circumstances of their first meeting and why it was important to their later lives. They form a loose bond that is significant in their later adventures. Actor Hutcherson is just young enough to show that hang-dog and puppy love face when appropriate. As such, he is a contender for major stardom as the girls will fall in love with his handsome face. He hits the right notes in his scenes with Lawrence and is secure enough to show vulnerability to her strength.

Liam Hemsworth landed the most significant role of his young and short career. The relationship of his character Gale with that of Katniss is pivotal. They grew up together and learned to hunt and survive in the forest. This all proved to be crucial in Katniss’s games period when Gale was left at home. He also romantically yearns for her after having been so close to her during their developing years.

Stanley Tucci plays Caesar Flickerman, an over-the-top TV host and narrator of the Hunger Games. Decked out in a futuristic version of a black 18th century wig and enhanced sparkling white teeth to fill the TV screen, Tucci commands every scene and should be on the list of Best Supporting Actors come next year’s awards.

Another outstanding supporting role but significant in its impact, is that of Elizabeth Banks’ Effie Trinket ( a tribute to Edgar Bergin’s Effie Klinker radio dummy character perhaps?).Banks is completely unrecognizable plastered in thick white makeup and “bee-stung” red lips (harking back to the silent films). She plays an escort to the kids at the Games. She’s definitely goofy looking and just a bit spooky, but futuristic and retro at the same time, if that’s possible. Effie is one of the great film characters of all time.

Other cast members somewhat wasted are talented Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane, Toby Jones as Claudius Templesmith, the man who is throwing switches at the control board (this casting indignity after he had received many kudos for playing author Truman Capote in Infamous in 2006). Donald Sutherland as President Coriolanus Snow is in for a few scenes. Bentley is sporting what is probably the weirdest facial hair in films, Jones has the funniest puffy wig and approximately one line of dialogue, and Sutherland’s role is not fleshed out to any degree despite his powerful part in the nature of the games.

The hand-held camerawork by cinematographer Tom Stern and editing by Stephen Mirione and Juliette Welfing is hideous, to put it kindly. It is so shaky in some scenes that gobbling an entire bottle of Dramamine will not lessen the blowing of chunks. The only positive effect the Jello-jiggling camera does do is lessen the blood and gore because your eyes can’t focus on the hacking and slashing of nubile teen-age bodies.

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