From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
“The Hunger Games” 2-Disc Blu-ray + Digital Copy
There’s a fine and tenuous line between glorifying violence and exploring mankind’s troubling thirst for blood, and Gary Ross’ nimble traversing of that line gives his blockbuster adaptation of “The Hunger Games” a cinematic victory.
Turning a global literary phenomenon into a movie is never an easy task, but the Oscar-nominated director/co-writer obviously put a great deal of thought and care into his handling of Suzanne Collins’ sharp dystopian tale. Adapted from the first book in her best-selling trilogy for young adults, “The Hunger Games” stumbles over a few of the anticipated pacing and storytelling pitfalls involved in building such an intricate world, but the compelling movie mostly meets and in some arenas exceeds expectations.
Set in the not-too-distant future, what was formerly North America has been replaced by Panem, which consists of a wealthy, corrupt Capitol surrounded by 12 poor, oppressed districts whose residents provide necessities and luxuries to the sleek metropolis and its pampered denizens.
As penance for a long-ago uprising, each district is required each year to provide two tributes – a boy and a girl – between the ages of 12 and 18 to travel to the Capitol, receive training and then fight to the death in the Hunger Games. Only one of the 24 tributes will survive, and everyone is Panem is legally required to watch the dehumanizing brutality play out live on television.
In poverty-stricken District 12, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence, who ably carries the film) and her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) keep their families fed by breaking the law and hunting game in the woods outside their coal-mining village. But they can’t protect their siblings from everything, and Katniss’ gentle 12-year-old sister Prim (Willow Shields) is chosen by lottery to compete in the 74th annual Games.
Katniss volunteers to take her sister’s place, and her classmate Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the baker’s son with whom she has a complicated history, is drawn as the male tribute. Katniss and Peeta are whisked off to the Capitol, where they are beautified, battle trained and literally paraded about for the benefit of the rich and privileged.
There’s a lot of setup involved in building this franchise, but Ross keeps the plot economically unfurling. Once Katniss, Peeta and the other tributes enter the arena and the Games begin, he ramps up the action to a near-breakneck speed, but he still is unable to quite keep up with page-turning pace of Collins’ cliffhanger-per-chapter novels.
Still, the director gets the most important part right: He never turns “The Hunger Games” into your standard slick action vehicle, the kind of movie that makes violence look kind of cool or at least exciting. Adopting a cinéma vérité shooting style, taking the PG-13 rating to the hilt and continually pushing his stellar cast to find the humanity in their characters, Ross brings to the screen an adaptation that is faithful not only to the letter but also the spirit of Collins’ books.
Bonus features: While it doesn’t offer the usual director’s commentary — unfortunately, Ross won’t be helming the sequel “Catching Fire” — the two-disc Blu-ray includes a comprehensive two-hour, eight-part making-of documentary, along with several behind-the-scenes featurettes, photo and poster galleries, trailers and a full version of the propaganda short film seen in the movie.