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The Hunger Games

Stanley Tucci & Jennifer Lawrenece in The Hunger Games
Saturday March 31st, 2012

Within 20 minutes of the opening of The Hunger Games I wanted to puke.

Was it the sushi? No it was the handheld cinematography employed throughout much of the film. A creative choice, and as such I respect director Gary Ross and cinematographer Tom Stern for making it. Yet I still couldn't help but almost lose my rainbow roll.

I find it ironic that Ross's previous film, Seabiscuit, largely took place on the back of a racehorse but used a steady cam.   Alas, here the technique is forced on us with the likely intent of making the audience feel uneasy as the 'reaping' begins. That is, the ceremony whereupon Jennifer Lawrence's Katness and Josh Hutcherson's Peeta (How it is actually spelled, not my Boston accent.) are to assume the mantle of 'tribute' for their district.  Which is to say, they are to battle to the death with 26 other youths.  They call it 'The Hunger Games,' and it is a television program coordinated by their neo/retro-fascist state to both suppress revolution and pacify the masses.

To be sure, the story is very interesting, as we would expect of a film adapted from an international best-seller.  A book I should say right off the bat I have not read.  I can't speak to the differences between the two, only my take on the former, which I found competent but a little disappointing.  More so because I love Gary Ross and expect the world of him.

There are two problems here, and the second is likely a symptom of the first.  As has been said many times of adapted books, there is too much material here for a film to properly mine. While The Hunger Games book may be a symphony, this film feels like it is just hitting some of the key notes.  I couldn't help but think it would make a fantastic TV miniseries as we rushed through Katness's back story, training and her experience in the competition itself.

Which leads us to problem number two, the resulting exposition seemed to reduce the characters and their relationships to something more like plot points than anything truly emotional or dramatic. The best example is the bond formed between Kattness and her friend Rue (Amandla Stenberg). I didn't see enough on the screen to make be believe it could ever be as deep as it was, or that Katness was capable of such empathy.  For me, such cases are made during the quiet moments that this film simply doesn't have.

Given that the narrative seemed so rushed its hard to be critical of the performances.  Lawrence's emotional reserve  as Katness is a bit frustrating because her traumatic youth is only passingly alluded to.  Her guarded nature creates drama that is never really purged by the script. Hutcherson's performance is also solid in capturing the innocence and almost tragic naivety of Peeta. I should add that I appreciate his reasonably drawn appearance.

On that note I agree with those who feel Jennifer Lawrence looked a bit too robust for a hungry 16 year old.  The character rejoices at the site of a biscuit so don't tell me she eats well.  She isn't fat, okay. I'm not holding her to the standard of Michael Fassbender in Hunger (left) but would it be too much to ask for some cheek bones  à la Toby Maguire in Seabiscuit (right)?

Miachael Fassbender and Toby Maguire

To beat that dead horse (intended), I thought the choice of his Seabiscuit costar Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket was inspired. She is unrecognizable as she channels a character that is equally hideous inside and out.

Other fine supporting performances include Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth,  Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Lenny "Are You Gonna Go My Way" Kravitz.

All that said, the Hunger games is one part Lord of the Flies, one part The Running Man, and one part Twilight. Shake vigorously in a handheld camera and garnish with Lady Gaga.  Best served on an empty stomach.

I cannot help but compare it unflatteringly to Ross's Seabiscuit, which is also adapted from a book, but which connects the audience emotionally to every character.  Toby Maguire and that God damn horse leave me choked up every time, but I found myself far less invested in Katness, Peeta and The Hunger Games.