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District 12’s rep Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) with a reluctant Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) moments after the Reaping.
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★★★★✩

The Hunger Games

Directed by Gary Ross

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth

Rated PG-13

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The Hunger Games, like its prior fantasy predecessors, Twilight and Harry Potter, is a behemoth. It has the hopes and dreams of millions of tween fangirls and fanboys on the line. When I discovered that they were making the bestselling book series into movies, I could not say I was surprised — what I did not anticipate was being impressed by the first movie. Even for those who have not read the series, the movie is a solid standalone film. It has all the necessary elements: beautiful cinematography, breadth of colorful characters, and the right moments to pull the audience’s heartstrings. What makes premise of The Hunger Games so unique though is that the most monstrous creatures the protagonist faces are other humans.

I will keep it succinct: The Hunger Games has strong traces of the same bloodbath and human psychology of Lord of the Flies and the Japanese gore-thriller Battle Royale. Most of the action in the film takes place during a staged “game” where each of the 12 districts sends two youths, a boy and a girl, to participate in a gladiatorial game to the death. Following the model of current reality shows, the games are a televised spectacle complete with host and running commentary. The heart of the first film is the introduction of Katniss Everdeen, our heroine, and the 74th Hunger Games.

Steadfast fans of the series will appreciate the attention to detail in designing the sets and costumes, and capturing the atmosphere of the various parts of the book. While many may complain that the Capitol’s makeup and décor was too gaudy, it definitely captured a dimension of the book’s description. Best of all, while the plot is central to the film’s development, the director does not sacrifice quality for content. From a cinematographic perspective, the sweeping landscapes, diverse camera technique, and range of color palettes are more characteristic of an arthouse independent film than a blockbuster hit. I was especially impressed by the Gary Ross’ visual rendition of the Capitol. The Lady Gaga-esque haute couture combined with a neo-New York futuristic city was an unique interpretation. The decadence coupled with a neon and white palette contrasted nicely against the earthy realism of the actual Hunger Games scenes.

In terms of the cast, while it helps that there are two studly young male actors (Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth), Jennifer Lawrence really carries the movie on her toned bronzed shoulders as Katniss. She is surprisingly convincing as a level-headed, stubborn, and mildly socially-inept Katniss. Not only does she have natural good looks, she has the acting skills that can capture the full range of Katniss’s complexity: from huntress with fierce smouldering gaze to a tender-hearted older sister. Unlike fellow counterparts in certain vampire movies, Lawrence brings depth to her character. Even if fans may argue and nitpick about how she doesn’t quite physically resembles the original series’ Katniss, it is difficult to argue that Lawrence did not nail the hubris of the leading role.

If moviegoers are anticipating melodramatic love triangles (as mislead by the trailers), they will be sorely disappointed. As stated previously, this first film seeks to establish Katniss as a character and introduce the audience to the world of Panem. Of all the book-turned-film movies, The Hunger Games is actually one of the best-delivered ones, partly due to the nature of the original book. Suzanne Collins, the author of the original book series, was criticized as having spent too many pages describing the action. The film was able to bring a dimension to the action scenes that words alone could not.

The one major flaw I found in the film was that it barely scraped the surface on the political aspects of the original series. The extreme hierarchical class system and limited political freedom emphasized in the book are all issues skirted around cautiously in the movie. While it is true that the first book did not focus on the political aspects, I was disappointed that the film translated even less of it to the audience. Although the cinematography and action scenes provide for entertainment, the film could have pushed itself more by lingering upon the politics of Panem for a scene or two.

All in all, The Hunger Games really appeals to a spectrum of audiences. With the PG-13 rating, the visuals avert from direct gore or scenes of blood splatters, making it family-friendly. The complexity of the social system and government structure of Panem also provides food for the thought for more sophisticated audience, despite being construed minimally on screen. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or in the mood for a movie worth the $12 theater experience, The Hunger Games is definitely an option for weekend entertainment.