Thursday, March 22, 2012

“The Hunger Games” – It’s the little things that count.

Everyone has a favorite book that they would like to see made into a movie, but are secretly (or in my case, openly) worried that Hollywood is going to ruin it. Lately, it seems that every popular book gets the silver screen treatment, even semi-popular books. I know this has been going on for decades, but between all of the book adaptations and sequels, it seems like the Hollywood writers have given up even attempting to write something original. It’s not that I’m complaining, but it increases the chances that your favorite book is going to get shit on by these no-talent hacks. So, you can imagine my concern when I found out one of my all-time favorites – The Hunger Games – was called up to the plate. Luckily, the book’s author, Suzanne Collins, helped write the screenplay, squashing any chance that the other two writers might have decided they could get “creative.” This was possibly the best decision the production studio has ever made.

I’m happy to tell you that The Hunger Games is so close to the book that it’s like watching what you picture in your head while you read it. This is not an exaggeration. Just to refresh my memory, I reread the book a couple of weeks prior to watching the film. I can honestly tell you that almost no detail was sacrificed and the three (seriously, three) that were sacrificed were so small and inconsequential that only a nitpicking, extreme OCD person would care. Ordinarily, this attention to detail would cause the film to run for about thirteen hours, but this film was done so carefully that the running time is less than two and a half hours. Make no mistake, this wasn’t done simply because the filmmakers were that good; it’s because the legions of fans would have executed the filmmakers if they had screwed this up.

For the four of you who haven’t read this book, it’s about a country called Panem in what was once the United States, comprised of a Capitol and twelve surrounding districts. Each year, each district sends a randomly drawn girl and boy – between the ages of twelve and eighteen – to the capitol to compete in the Hunger Games, where they are put into an arena to fight to the death; with the sole survivor rewarded with riches for life. Our hero, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) of District 12, volunteers for the games to take the place of her younger sister, Prim, thus saving Prim’s life. She is joined by the male tribute from the district, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and the two are quickly whisked off to the Capitol to prepare for the games. The rest of the story is the pre-game festivities, followed by the games themselves. I’d tell you more, but I really don’t want to spoil anything and there are only four of you.

What I will tell you more about is the casting. Aside from “the next James Bond” or “Batman and Batman villains,” no movie’s cast has been as dissected as that of The Hunger Games. Who’s going to play Katniss? Who’s going to play Gale (Liam Hemsworth)? Who’s going to play fill-in-the-blank? This debate went on for months, once people learned the movie was in production. And trust me, the casting people were well aware that lives were at stake if they screwed up any of the characters. And every decision they made was correct. Aside from the fantastic performances from Lawrence and Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, Donald Sutherland as President Snow, Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, and Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman (yes, they all need to be mentioned – they were that good) were every bit the characters I pictured in the books. And that’s not to mention all of the other supporting cast and extras that brought the minute details of the background to life. It’s easily the most care a group of actors and filmmakers have put into a film since The Lord of the Rings. Even if you haven’t read the book, you will love these characters, good and bad, and if you don’t, I don’t care.

As completely enthralled as I was with the quality and entertainment of this film, there are two things I thought could have been done better or differently. The first is when the tributes are being paraded in front of the populace as part of the pre-game festivities and Katniss and Peeta are supposed to be wearing flaming costumes. The problem is that they are supposed to be completely engulfed in flame, but it looks more like they just have wings of flame. I know this is a small nit, but I feel like they could have done a better job with motion-capture, plus, this was one of the more memorable scenes in the book and the fans are going to notice. The good news is that they should get over this because without using some CGI magic, the only way to get this right would have been to literally light the actors on fire.

The second thing, and the only one I think really matters, is that they insisted on using that stupid shaky-cam technique. Like 3-D, this is one of the most overused techniques in filmmaking and, in most cases, is actually detrimental to the film. To put it simply, the reason they do is to make you feel like you are there with them, except the only people who shake that much are in the middle of seizures. If any filmmakers are reading this, please stop with the hand-helds. The only thing you are making people feel are headaches and nausea.

Considering the danger the filmmakers put themselves in by even attempting this film, they did a superb job. They captured details small and large, the actors’ performances were spot-on, and they strayed as little from the book’s plot and layout as is possible. It’s as if they borrowed money (the book) from a mob boss (the fans) under penalty of broken legs (broken everything) if they didn’t deliver. They’ve paid up so far, but they still have two books to go – and we’ve still got our eyes on them.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back. If you do, I will hunt you down like a tribute in the games.

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