Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Hunger Games

[Reviewed April 11th, 2012]

My team's morale has been in the pits lately since all of us having been working long hours on getting our work out the door.  To boost morale (and to get out of the office), we decided to watch "The Hunger Games" at the Pacific Science Center, which houses a real IMAX movie theater, unlike those converted-to-pseudo-IMAX screens that you'll find at your local multiplex.  Reviews for the movie have been pretty good and having enjoyed reading all three of the books, this was a movie that I was looking forward to seeing.  So, how was the movie?  Here's my short movie review.

Main Takeaway
A capable book-to-movie translation that delivers on most of the key scenes but doesn't deliver on making it an engaging experience.  Verdict:  matinee, if you're interested; otherwise Rental; not worth seeing it in IMAX.

Pros
  • Very faithful to the book … almost to a fault
  • Beautiful location shooting in western North Carolina
  • Some scenes that you've imagined when reading the book looked better on film (train ride to the Capitol, training sequence)
  • I like popcorn

Cons
  • Tons of needless, fidgety shaky-cam scenes.  Makes a Michael Bay film look downright sedate.  Watching it in IMAX didn't help since we sat close to an awesomely large screen.
  • Key action scenes were edited in a hyper-Michael Bay style of whiplash quick-editing, which masks the violence but makes you wish barf bags were provided
  • Some scenes that you've imagined when reading the book looked much worse on film (Cornucopia, Capitol citizens)
  • The actors did a good job in the film but their performances were really wooden.  Not Phantom Menace bad but not as lively as you would have expected.  Not sure if this is the fault of the actors, director or the film producers but I didn't feel a lot of chemistry between each of the characters.  I will say, however, that there was one brief moment of brilliance when the MC (Stanley Tucci) is interviewing Peeta and the interplay between them works well.
  • For a book that kept me wanting to read what would happen in the next chapter, I didn't get the same sense of suspense and anticipation with the movie.
  • I ate all of the popcorn

Summary
Whether it's Harry Potter or the Twilight series or even the Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan films, part of the fun of watching these types of movies is seeing how well (or not so well) the producers were able to translate the book to a feature film.  The introduction to Diagon Alley and when Harry gets his wand where two early scenes from the series that made me realize that I was in for a treat when I watched the first Harry Potter film.  For Hunger Games, I didn't get the same vibe.  I think the producers, actors and directors all had the best intentions of making the book into a badass movie but it came off more as a made-for-television movie.  This might have been intentional since I heard that the director wanted to keep the movie on or under budget and didn't want to make it into an over-the-top movie with violence/gore, explosions and such.  The book has Katniss processing a lot of stuff in her mind but the movie has the more difficult challenge of making those inner thoughts into outer actions or words for other to hear and react.  Unfortunately, we don't get that and it's unfortunate since the producers had a great opportunity to really make the movie stand apart from the source material.  Instead, we're left with blank stares and listless actions that makes it difficult to really empathize with the characters.  Maybe they'll do a better job with Catching Fire.

Notes
There's been a number of discussions online (both movie reviews or reviews of the books) about how Hungry Games is very similar to the Japanese novel/movie Battle Royale.  I've never read the book or watched the movie but it would be interesting to see it if it they are very similar.  Personally, I thought Hunger Games was similar to the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, The Running Man.

Starring:  Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Written By:  Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins (based on her novel)
Directed By:  Gary Ross
Genre:  Adventure/Science Fiction
Rated PG-13

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