The world should be watching: Jennifer Lawrence carries The Hunger Games onsturdy, capable shoulders
Suzanne Collins' dystopian, futuristic society finally hits screens this weekend. Originally published in 2008, it took only three years (and millions of copies sold) for The Hunger Games to become a major blockbuster with an $80 million production budget. Largely dependent on Jennifer Lawrence's capable (and believably sturdy) shoulders, we'd venture to say the first film installment, directed by Gary Ross and co-produced by Collins, will not disappoint established fans of the Hunger Games trilogy.
The movie opens just as the book does, scrolling plot-establishing text: "In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying Districts. Each year, the Districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see."
Lawrence as protagonist Katniss Everdeen is stern and understated, allowing only perfectly executed moments of minimal tenderness and vulnerability throughout the film. She particularly shows her prowess as an actress when Katniss has only sixty seconds remaining until the Games begin and must bid farewell to Cinna. Lawrence as Katniss tremors almost undetectably with eyes so wide they remind the audience that these characters are children being sent to slaughter.
[Lawrence] particularly shows her prowess as an actress as she tremors almost undetectably with eyes so wide they remind the audience that these characters are children being sent to slaughter.
Even so, the death scenes in the book are far more graphic than in the movie. Though the film is 142 minutes long, it's not enough time to develop emotions for the tributes outside of Katniss and Peeta. The movie employs several tactics to skirt around violence and keep its PG-13 rating, cropping tightly in on scenes with a shaky camera and showing blood on swords and bricks rather than depicting the brutal acts themselves. Several CGI effects come off less terrifying than they should.
But most significant (and appreciated) is the decision of Ross not to force a love triangle between main characters Katniss, Peeta and Gale, which would have been an easy marketing tactic. Rather, the heart of the story remains true to the book — the struggle, oppression and dire circumstances of the twelve outlying Districts are juxtaposed against the grandeur and haughty glamour of the Capitol. Where the District scenes are reminiscent of Depression or Holocaust Era films — eerie, muted and grey — the depictions of Capitol citizens jump off the screen in vivid color. Ironically, Ross' Districts outshine the Capitol.
Perhaps what makes Lawrence so fitting as the backbone of this film is the parallel one is able to draw between the actress and her role: Katniss is forced to transform from an ordinary District 12 girl into a stylized, manicured Hunger Games participant who must play to the cameras in order to win public support; Lawrence was unexpectedly thrust into the uncomfortable spotlight after receiving an Oscar nomination, forever changing whatever anonymity she previously had.
Supporting (but vital) characters Woody Harrelson (Haymitch Abernathy), Elizabeth Banks (Effie Trinket) and Stanley Tucci (Ceasar Flickerman) don't disappoint, each living up to the larger than life personalities Collins scripted.
As is the case with most books-turned-films, it's a challenge to cram in every twist and turn of the plot. However, the movie is nicely paced with a story arch that feels evenly distributed in comparison to the book.
The Hunger Games recently broke Twilight: Eclipse's record-setting advance ticket sales (but seriously, the comparison to the trilogies should stop there) and is projected to rake in upwards of $120 million on opening night — and that's a conservative estimate that's likely to grow as more and more fans realize Ross might have just hit the bullseye with his interpretation of the New York Times Best Seller.