CGB Review of The Hunger Games (2012) (Part 1 of the CGB Hunger Games Extravaganza!)

Happy Hunger Games month and may the CGB reviews be ever in your favor.
By the way, I just realized that this is Jennifer Lawrence’s third appearance here on CGB (see my reviews for Silver Linings Playbook and Serena).

This is my review of The Hunger Games!

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I am a mega fan of The Hunger Games trilogy.  I am also blessed that my parents, my brother and my sister-in-law are also HG fans.  This trilogy got me through my first semester of college and I’ve read all three books multiple times.  Alas, I am so glad to launch Hunger Games month on Catholic Girl Bloggin’!
Anywho, so in the Hunger Games, America is now called Panem, which comes from the Latin, “panem et circenses,” meaning “bread and circuses.”  The country is divided into twelve segregated districts all controlled by the Capitol.  Every year, two children between the ages of 12 and 18 from each of the twelve districts are selected for a televised fight to the death known as The Hunger Games.
Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year old denizen of the coal-mining District 12.  If this story took place during Jesus’ ministry, District 12 would be an exile for lepers.  It’s the poorest, most looked-down-upon district.  Katniss is a fatherless teenager who basically runs the Everdeen household by being the primary caregiver of her twelve-year old sister Primrose “Prim” and doing all the work that her emotionally-fragile mother can’t bring herself to do.
On the day of the Reaping, when tributes are selected for the Games, Prim’s name is called.  Unwillingly to let her little sister be slaughtered, Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place, a move that could arguably be interpreted as paying homage to Saint Maximilian Kolbe.  Katniss finds herself thrown into the entertainment culture of the Capitol and ends up in the ultimate fight for her life as a Hunger Games tribute.
I saw this movie during my first year as a LifeTeen Core member with my fellow Core members.  We all dressed up in camoflague attire (keeping up with the HG theme), carpooled together and headed for Arclight Hollywood for the premiere. We were so excited when all the previews were done and the opening sequence began AND…

Two and a half hours later, we walked out of the theater with very mixed feelings.

The Hits
Jennifer Lawrence.  Need I say more?  She was born to play Katniss.  Her smokey eyes pop any time she goes brunette, she has the youth and vunerablity to portray a teenager while also having the strength and maturity that Katniss needs in order to be taken seriously by the adults around her.
In fact, all of the casting choices are top notch.  Josh Hutcherson is capable and believable as fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark, Woody Harrelson embraces his role as the hardened, drunken, weary-from-living Haymitch Abernathy and Elizabeth Banks delivers a both classy and fun performance as the always-stylish Effie Trinket.  I really appreciate how Ms. Banks watched Audrey Hepburn films and channeled Hepburn’s acting style when playing Effie.  This keeps the innocently superficial Effie from being flanderized.  For the record, flanderization is a TV trope that can also apply to cinema, defined by the TV Tropes website as “The act of taking a single (often minor) action or trait of a character within a work and exaggerating it more and more over time until it completely consumes the character. Most always, the trait/action becomes completely outlandish and it becomes their defining characteristic” (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Flanderization).
Even though he only has a few scenes, Doland Sutherland is terrifying as President Coriolanus Snow, the dictatorial ruler of all of Panem.  His deep, authoritative voice is enough to send chills down my spine.  Fun fact: Donald Sutherland emailed to director Gary Ross a three-page letter titled “Letters from the Rose Garden” that outlined his [Sutherland’s] arguments for why he should be cast as President Snow.  In three pages, Mr. Sutherland discussed power, Ted Bundy and his own interpretation of President Snow.  I know that if I was a director and got a three-page magnum opus from THE Donald Sutherland, I’d cast him in my movie, too.  Also, as a bonus feature, I will post the letter at the end of this review!  🙂

The Misses
This is my least favorite of the films.  Why?  Because as my brother and sister-in-law pointed out, this movie really should have been called “The Hunger Games: Sparknotes Edition.”  The issue is this movie has the major scenes from the first book (Katniss hunting, Katniss volunteering as tribute, the training montage, interviews with Ceaser Flickerman, etc.), but there are way too many changes to the point where you begin to wonder if they even read the book at all.  I don’t want to go into SPOILER territory, so I’ll just say this: How Katniss gets the iconic Mockingjay pin not only requires the elimination of a supporting character, but happens in a way that wouldn’t fly in a tyrannical regime.  There’s a comic relief ancedote during the Reaping that doesn’t happen in the movie.  There are quite a few supporting characters in the books who are completely dropped from the film. In the book, there’s a crucial line of dialogue delivered by Peeta’s mother that serves as character development for both Katniss and Peeta.  This line is never said by Mama Mellark or even mentioned by Peeta to Katniss in the film.
I counted exactly 31 changes that they made to the story, and sure enough, I’m not the only person.  Check out this list by Film.com which outlines the 31 changes that I’m talking about.  http://www.film.com/movies/differences-between-the-hunger-games-book-and-movie

All of that being said, The Hunger Games is still a good intro into Katniss’ world. The major scenes that need to be there are present, the casting is excellent and the action is intense and exciting to watch.  While it’s not as stellar as the later films, The Hunger Games is a worthy entry into the HG film saga.

As promised, here is Donald Sutherland’s “Letters from the Rose Garden.”

Dear Gary Ross: 

Power. That’s what this is about? Yes? Power and the forces that are manipulated by the powerful men and bureaucracies trying to maintain control and possession of that power?
Power perpetrates war and oppression to maintain itself until it finally topples over with the bureaucratic weight of itself and sinks into the pages of history (except in Texas), leaving lessons that need to be learned unlearned.
Power corrupts, and, in many cases, absolute power makes you really horny. Clinton, Chirac, Mao, Mitterrand.
Not so, I think, with Coriolanus Snow. His obsession, his passion, is his rose garden. There’s a rose named Sterling Silver that’s lilac in colour with the most extraordinarily powerful fragrance – incredibly beautiful – I loved it in the seventies when it first appeared. They’ve made a lot of off shoots of it since then.
I didn’t want to write to you until I’d read the trilogy and now I have so: roses are of great importance. And Coriolanus’s eyes. And his smile. Those three elements are vibrant and vital in Snow. Everything else is, by and large, perfectly still and ruthlessly contained. What delight she [Katniss] gives him. He knows her so perfectly. Nothing, absolutely nothing, surprises him. He sees and understands everything. he was, quite probably, a brilliant man who’s succumbed to the siren song of power.
How will you dramatize the interior narrative running in Katniss’s head that describes and consistently updates her relationship with the President who is ubiquitous in her mind? With omniscient calm he knows her perfectly. She knows he does and she knows that he will go to any necessary end to maintain his power because she knows that he believes that she’s a real threat to his fragile hold on his control of that power. She’s more dangerous than Joan of Arc.
Her interior dialogue/monologue defines Snow. It’s that old theatrical turnip: you can’t ‘play’ a king, you need everybody else on stage saying to each other, and therefore to the audience, stuff like “There goes the King, isn’t he a piece of work, how evil, how lovely, how benevolent, how cruel, how brilliant he is!” The idea of him, the definition of him, the audience’s perception of him, is primarily instilled by the observations of others and once that idea is set, the audience’s view of the character is pretty much unyielding. And in Snow’s case, that definition, of course, comes from Katniss.
Evil looks like our understanding of the history of the men we’re looking at. It’s not what we see: it’s what we’ve been led to believe. Simple as that. Look at the face of Ted Bundy before you knew what he did and after you knew.
Snow doesn’t look evil to the people in Panem’s Capitol. Bundy didn’t look evil to those girls. My wife and I were driving through Colorado when he escaped from jail there. The car radio’s warning was constant. ‘Don’t pick up any young men. The escapee looks like the nicest young man imaginable’. Snow’s evil shows up in the form of the complacently confident threat that’s ever present in his eyes. His resolute stillness. Have you seen a film I did years ago? ‘The Eye of the Needle’. That fellow had some of what I’m looking for.
The woman who lived up the street from us in Brentwood came over to ask my wife a question when my wife was dropping the kids off at school. This woman and her husband had seen that movie the night before and what she wanted to know was how my wife could live with anyone who could play such an evil man. It made for an amusing dinner or two but part of my wife’s still wondering.
I’d love to speak with you whenever you have a chance so I can be on the same page with you.
They all end up the same way. Welcome to Florida, have a nice day!

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.

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