With its opening weekend wrapping up shortly,The Hunger Games is settling in among the all-time best box office openings in history. Projections have it raking in right around $155 million, placing it third all-time in its first weekend behind Harry Potter 7.2 and The Dark Knight. This is quite an accomplishment in and of itself, and an even greater one when you consider that The Hunger Games' $78 million production budget is markedly less than either of the two films ahead of it.
Just a couple weeks ago, I knew very little about Suzanne Collins' fictional trilogy, the first of which provides the basis for this movie. I was a bit surprised to learn that the film is, simply put, about a fight to the death (the plot is quite similar to the Japanese film Battle Royale, which Collins claims to have never heard of prior to penning the books). It's a pretty dark story when you consider who the target audience is.
Taking place in a dystopian future amalgamation of present day North America, The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a poverty stricken girl who lives in District 12, the last of a current group of districts ruled over by the wealthy, aristocratic like members of the Capitol. Some time ago, the 12 districts took part in a failed rebellion against the Capitol. As punishment, the Capitol devised a yearly event known as the Hunger Games, in which one male and one female contestant ages 12-18 are randomly chosen from each district.
The "tributes" then fight until only one is left living in a game devised by a maniacal gamekeeper (played here by Wes Bentley - best known for his part in American Beauty). When Katniss' younger sister Primrose is selected at "the reaping," Katniss surrenders herself to the games instead. The rest of the film follows Katniss' training for and participation in the Hunger Games.
Despite what annoying fanboys (or fangirls) will have you believe, The Hunger Games is not a perfect film. That being said, it's pretty good, wholly entertaining, and considering I was less than disinterested not too terribly long ago, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Lawrence commands the screen as Katniss, giving the film's best performance. Her heroic character is easy to root for on a number of levels, and her intensity permeates nearly every scene.
The supporting cast is nearly as strong, with odd turns from Elizabeth Banks as the creepily funny Capitol representative of District 12, Stanley Tucci as the charismatic announcer, the above-mentioned Bentley as the gamekeeper (a role greatly expanded from the novel), Josh Hutcherson as District 12's male representative, and my personal favorite, Woody Harrelson as Katniss' mentor and former games winner. Harrelson steals scenes with humor and has a rough outer shell, but inside he boasts the brains and heart that Katniss will need to win.
I haven't read the novel, although I hope to shortly. I do know that one major difference is that the film is told from a more omniscient point of view whereas the novel takes place through Katniss' eyes only. By ridding the film of the first-person view point, director Gary Ross was able to add and expand to what takes place outside the games while they are occurring, which I personally think was a beneficial choice.
My biggest gripe comes with how many of the most crucial action sequences are filmed: with close shots and shaky camera work. When the contestants are all dressed similarly, many resembling each other, and with a lot of action taking place at night, at times it's difficult to tell exactly what is going on. I can only wonder what second-unit director Steven Soderbergh would have done with these sequences.
As I mentioned already, the target audience doesn't quite sit with the heaviness of the subject matter or the depth of the themes. The fact that there is enough in The Hunger Games to appeal to multiple demographics is reflected in how well the film has done so far. I was actually a bit surprised at some of the violent, albeit quick, shots that take place during the games, primarily at the beginning. A better film would have been a bit more daring with these shots, but it's completely understandable and not at all a knock on the filmmakers for stopping where they did.
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