Sunday, March 25, 2012

'The Hunger Games' a better movie than the hype

The Hunger Games is not the big blockbuster audiences have been waiting for. It's something even better. While The Hunger Games opened on March 23 to much fanfare, the movie doesn't have the glitz or big blockbuster sleekness of many summer movies.  The Hunger Games has a gritty, dirty realism to it as though shot in documentary style.

Even the title is in a simple white text after audiences are given a quick run down on the story. Two tributes, a boy and girl, are chosen from the 12 districts that rebelled against the tyrannical Capitol. These tributes are then brought to the Capitol to fight in The Hunger Games. Each tribute is to kill each other until the last survivor wins.

In place of big explosions, high-budget special effects and impervious heroes immune to danger, pain or fear, we are given Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Katniss grows up in poverty and fends for her family by hunting game in the forest. It's these survival skills that factor into Katniss's survival, but its not her archery that makes Katniss the heroine; it's her humanity.

Katniss selflessly volunteers to take her younger sister's place, Primrose, when Prim is chosen in The Hunger Games lottery. Katniss's one souvenir from home is a Mockingjay pin, which also later becomes a symbol of rebellion against the Capitol's cruelty. Katniss's fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), is a baker's son who saved Katniss years ago from starvation when he threw out a loaf of bread to Katniss. Tension builds as Katniss must pretend to love Peeta in order to gain sponsors for the games.

The movie doesn't hide the brutality of the games. One clip of a previous season of the games had a fellow tribute bludgeon another tribute to death with a bloody brick. Perhaps the most heart breaking scene in the movie is when sweet little Rue is killed with a spear to the stomach. The movie deviates from the book when the result of Rue's death doesn't lead to a gift of a loaf of bread from District 11, but the district launching a rebellion after Katniss salutes the cameras in honor of Rue.

The Hunger Games does start out on the slow side with the set up, but the movie is leaner and at times, more poignant than the novel by Suzanne Collins. While the book followed Katniss in first person, the audience can see behind the scenes back at the Capitol. Perhaps the biggest improvement is the role of Haymitch, who seemed more an ineffectual drunk in the book. Haymitch is played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson, who proves to be a clever mentor, maneuvering behind the scenes and getting the critical aid needed to Katniss and Peeta.

A delicious addition is President Snow (Donald Sutherland) played with subdued maliciousness. After Katniss makes the Capitol and President Snow look bad during the games, Snow forces game keeper, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), to commit suicide with the same lethal nightshade berries Katniss and Peeta nearly killed themselves with.

The Hunger Games may disappoint audiences looking for big special effects, explosions and gradiose presentation. Director Gary Ross showed real chutzpah in showing the brutality of the games and that humanity and love can rise above even the cruelest situation. At the end of the movie's showing, the audience applauded. They probably will not be the only one.

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