Review of The Hunger Games

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Gary Ross directs this sci-fi/action epic based on Suzanne Collins' novel of the same name. Set in a futuristic American landscape, Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss Everdeen, the main character of the story. As a young girl living in a dystopian future, Everdeen replaces her sister in a survival contest that will save her community if she can make it until the end. Also starring Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Toby Jones and Elizabeth Banks.
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Movie Review: "The Hunger Games"

Rating: PG-13 (intense violence and disturbing images involving teens)
Length: 142 minutes
Release Date: March 23, 2012
Directed by: Gary Ross
Genre: Action/Drama
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Movie adaptations of beloved books like Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" are under additional scrutiny from viewers because they are comparing the film to the book. Many film adaptations fall far short of the source material. That is not the case with "The Hunger Games," and part of the reason is likely because Collins herself was called upon to cowrite the script.

The film is set in the future in the nation of Panem. It is divided up into 12 distinct districts, each of which must send one boy and one girl to compete in the Hunger Games. The Games were started when some of the citizens of Panem started a rebellion that was ultimately quashed. To deter another rebellion, the Games are played once each year as a reminder not to have another uprising. It is chillingly effective, as each set of minors must kill one another until only one is left standing.

The Hunger Games are a huge spectacle that gets televised to all the citizens of Panem. The children chosen from each district are drawn randomly from a bowl with all their names in it. At the start of the film, the audience is introduced to 16-year-old Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) who worries that her young, innocent sister Prim (Willow Shields) will be picked from District 12. On the day of the drawing, her worst fear is realized as Prim's name is selected from the bowl by Effie Trinket (an almost unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks).

Knowing that Prim would surely not win, Katniss decides to loudly volunteer in her place. It turns out that Katniss is a hunter and very handy with a bow and arrow. She stands a much better chance of surviving. Her volunteering packs a punch to love interest Gale (Liam Hemsworth) who worries about her fate.

All 24 contestants (called Tributes) are whisked off to the capital where bawdy television personality Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) interviews each of them. These interviews give us a lot of insight into each character, especially Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has quietly pined for Katniss for a long time.

After getting mentored by drunkard Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a former Games winner, it's time for the Games to begin. The Tributes are taken to the remote location where hidden cameras are everywhere, recording their every move. It is here that Katniss meets the angelic Rue (Amandla Stenberg) and quickly forms a bond with her. One of the most brutal scenes in a movie filled with them is when Rue dies. It seems to change something in Katniss, bringing out her inner survivor.

The action scenes as the 24 Tributes are whittled down are outstanding. They are well-filmed and instead of just being mindless, they are actually though-provoking. "The Hunger Games" is the rare film where the action isn't just used for excitement but also to develop the characters and advance the plot. The scenes are what one would imagine a Michael Bay film would look like if there were fewer explosions and more story.

Jennifer Lawrence proves that her Academy Award nomination for "Winter's Bone" was no fluke. She has great acting chops and uses them to effuse Katniss with a steely vulnerability. In particular, her scenes with Peeta and Rue are full of raw emotion that really endears her to the audience.

Director Gary Ross handles the balance of heartfelt and action scenes with ease. He also uses a lot of color to enhance the mood of each scene. District 12 is shown to be a grey, depressing wasteland while the Capital is colorful and bright. The use of color also helps to underscore the difference between the "haves" of the Capital and the "have-nots" of District 12. He also cowrote the screenplay with Collins and Billy Ray, so his fingerprints are all over the film.

The attention to character development during the writing process shows on the screen. At the end of the 142 minutes of the movie, the audience feel like they really know the characters on the screen. Since there are two other books in the trilogy, there will likely be two more films. After watching "The Hunger Games," even casual viewers who didn't read the books will likely want to see the sequels. Those who did read the books will also want to see the sequels and likely won't be disappointed at all by this stellar adaptation.