Aimed Perfectly, Executed Brilliantly, Missed Parsimoniously
After tons of hype and anticipation the Suzanne Collin's bestselling trilogy sees its first big screen adaptation in "The Hunger Games". This futuristic fight to death thriller is quite faithful in packing a punch but creators don't gamble enough to make this intended epic into a Catching Fire adaptation. This post apocalyptic film, driven by survival instincts is sometimes thrilling and at times even disturbing. The problem still lies in depicting these instincts, building those thrills and shying away from creating something really menacing, instead we get a bland mix of emotions that feeds your hunger but does not really fills you with awe.
Katniss Everdeen (brought to life by charismatic and captivating Jennifer Lawrence) lives in District 12 of Panem. This totalitarian state of North America ascended post-war is now controlled by a governmental force called Capitol. Every year a boy and a girl aged 12 to 18 are chosen from each Panem district to compete in the nationally televised bloodsport called The Hunger Games. Katniss' frail 12-year old sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is randomly selected at the lottery called Reaping. The more resourceful 16-year old volunteers herself as the tribute, an almost unheard task inviting a death trap. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker's son who admires Katniss, joins her as the other tribute from District 12.
In preparation of the games they are mentored by comic drunkard and winner of yesteryear Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) along with stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) with the gold eyeliner and sunk in 8 pounds of make-up Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) who escorts them teaching the rules and manners of Capitol. Seen through the eyes of Katniss the 24 tributes are then heralded into howling masses through media, interviewed by blue-haired host Caesar Flickerman(Stanley Tucci) and measured by training marks to lure sponsors who can garner expensive gifts in the battlefield.
These are the parts where necessary go-for-broke risks have been taken which makes this part intriguing and provides a steady start for the series. The lottery scenes are really binding, but they could have done more with Gale Hawthorne(Liam Hemsworth) rather than just one notable scene in the entire movie. The concept of violence as entertainment has been used to much deeper impact before in films like Japanese "Battle Royale" due to which the danger and pity depicted in novels are forgotten here. Yet this part is so relentlessly paced that it does not allow you to wander, while not over-staying its welcome.
As soon as the contenders are released into the densely forested arena a fragmented, blurred, rapidly cut massacre of youngsters killing, falling and dying hits you. It's a strong affective scene that distils the harsh reality in blunt visuals building anticipation and racing pulses. After this we go back to the Katniss struggle which in itself is very effective but seems orchestrated at times. The film finds its only strong emotions when Katniss finds Rue (Amandla Stenberg) and forms an alliance. The alliance does not last long when the two decide to split in a stellar sequence to fire up a trap with bait apples followed by Rue's parting that pleads the helpless inhumanity of the situation. There are also glimpses of what is coming next here which blended very well with this sequence, still it doesn't supply ample justification for its inclusion. After this though the movie shifts gear in rhythmic, uneventful central drama moving to Katniss' and Peeta's relationship which feels forced plus the chemistry isn't inviting. The forced first kiss doesn't really pan out as it was in the book. The climax with The Truman Show-esque controlled dogs doesn't really add much value, plus the scene with berries comes out disappointing which is actually a very pivotal scene for the movie. These scenes though have much lesser impact since they finish quite quickly and even though not upto the mark they provide a smooth ending.
Much of the film works because of a reliable script and surprises rather than the handling from Gary Ross. While Ross(Seabiscuit, Pleasantville) does really well in creating this shrewd world he does not seem to control a hard case like Katniss, plus the action scenes while acted brilliantly by cast lacks any impact. The upcoming movies really need to up the game in terms of action, whatever was shown here can easily be done better with a PG-13 rating without actually watering down the impact. The script generated by the Novels author Suzanne Collins, Gary Ross and Billy Ray is quite good and supplies what should be expected of the famous original source. Lawrence who played a similar in much rawer Oscar nominated turn of Ree Dolly for "Winter's Bone" is gritty, captivating and she picked up the required weak points of Katniss very well. The problem though is that at times she looks too seductive and even better than the much richer, well fed, overly painted Capitol people. The physical efforts and the ease with which Lawrence makes you believe and follow Katniss is what uplifts the movie and makes this character more likeable than Isabella Swan of Twilight or even Lisbeth Salander of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
The rest of the cast is left for supporting Lawrence atleast for this movie. Hutcherson did much better than expected whereas Hemsworth is in blink-and-miss scenes. Harrelson is one of the most changed characters who does well but fails to register in the minuscule time he has been given here, even though he has good one-liners. Banks has a great Reaping scene, she depicts impressively the feared yet ignorant Capitol staff. Kravitz as Cinna impresses with his small role and friendship with Katniss, the pair bringing the only scene before the Games that can possibly brings forth true fear of the situation. Donald Southerland as President Snow, Wes Bentely as devil bearded Seneca Crane pass for good and menacing leaders, specially the former delivers well in his few lines. Tucci has hardly to do anything here but his is the only character that got all the scenes from the book.
The film has many flaws that stops it from being classic, but the strong story, inspiring performance from Lawrence makes it a respectable adaptation and the stellar pace makes this a great watch for a two and half hour movie experience. It works best in introducing you to the world of Panem and Capitol, plus the scenes in arena where the real struggles and survival instincts are at full use come out quite compelling. The movie will leave a positive impact on the already-converted tributes and the new joiners will enjoy it much better not knowing the exact brilliance of the book. The movie is great, the books (specially this one) are much better.