March 23rd, 2012

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The Hunger Games

Have you had it with all the Hunger Games hoopla yet, or can you handle one more? I have been ridiculously excited for this for months, and I followed all of the casting news with such fervor. What first got my attention turned towards this series was a random tweet from American Idiot's John Gallagher Jr. It was just something like "Now reading" and a pic of one of the books. I wikipedia-ed it and just HAD to read it. The premise just sounded absolutely fantastic. I tore thru the whole series in a few days. This was just before casting started, while the internet was rife with speculations and wishlists, so I had a pretty solid dream cast in my head the whole time.

I got tickets for the midnight about a month in advance and started organizing the trip with my posse. This has to have been one of the most satisfying midnight movie experiences. First off, I managed to get a pretty good sized group together. We took up half a large center row and most of the adjacent smaller side row. And it was total mayhem at the theater. I got there about an hour early and the place was already jumping. Not too long after that, it was taking a good ten minutes to just get inside the damn building. There were a few fangirls running around in home made costumes. I'll admit to wearing what I described as a "hipster Katniss" outfit. I had the obligatory side braid, a tee from Hot Topic that read "District 12 Tribute", and the hipster part was just the black skinny jeans and red Chucks I wore with it (side note: I kinda really dont like what a fine line there is between punk and hipster). I felt like such a nerd walking down the street wearing that.

But anyways, the crowd was exactly what you want for a movie like this, entirely energetic and excited and responsive. Even during the trailers, there were appropriate boos and cheers and laughter that ranged the spectrum from "hi-\m/-larious" to "oh God, srsly?". Just as the final AMC promo ended, there was a "Happy Hunger Games!" yelled out from the middle of the auditorium. Throughout the movie, every Katniss/Peeta moment that was followed by a reaction shot from Gale was met with laughter. Just about every shot of Rue got loud "awww"'s. There were gasps and screams for surprises and suspense, and "eeewwww"'s for the blood. But enough about the crowd.

Right to the point, I thought this was an incredibly faithful adaptation. Typically I prefer to watch the movie then read the book so I can pick up plot first, then get the missed details, and not be upset over changes. I was incredibly apprehensive as I'm sure most fans were. But this is one case where I am glad that I went in the "correct" order for once. Events in the movie played out pretty close to the source, and my head was filling in all of the little details that we couldnt have expected them to include. And even though I knew how everything was gonna play out, I was still on the edge of my seat. During the countdown before Katniss entered the arena, I could not breathe and my heart was pounding out of my chest as I had the tightest grip ever on my jacket which now served as a security blanket. I still jumped up when something came out of nowhere, even if somewhere subconsiously I should have suspected it. There were some details that I think may have been cloudy without having done my homework. For one, I'm not sure how obvious it is that at least from her side, the Katniss/Peeta thing was mostly an act, or if I'd have understood what those flashbacks were. I also wonder if I'd have picked up on some of the nuiances of the game. Oh and the way the people at the Capitol dressed would have weirded me the \m/ out. As it was, I thought Effie was a bit too far over the top, even once we saw other Capitol dwellers.

I dont think that a better cast could have possibly been put together for this. I remember following the news and it seemed like my second choice was being selected right down the line. Jennifer Lawrence over Haylee Steinfeld, Josh Hutcherson over Hunter Parrish, Elizabeth Banks over Kristin Chenoweth. But seeing them all on screen, I realize that the casting directors really do know more than me. Hell, I think I was sold long before then. Jennifer Lawrence could not have been more \m/ perfect. Such a contrast between how sweet she is with Prim and Rue and how \m/ bad ass she is in the arena. She had everything: defiance, compassion, strength, vulnerability, stubborn determination, everything that makes Katniss such a compelling character (take that, Bella!). I do think Peeta could have been developed a bit more, or at least a bit earlier, but Hutcherson played him fantastically. I'm prolly most excited to see where he goes in the subsequent movies. There wasn't too much of Liam Hemsworth as Gale, but there's some definite potential there for later that's got me excited too!

The single most brilliant casting decision I saw was Woody Harrelson as Haymitch. In my head, I'd never settled on my ideal actor. I think I pictured Daniel Craig with Robert Downey Jr's attitude, and a bit of Hugh Laurie thrown in there. But when the announcement was made, I was so upset with myself for the thought never having occurred to me. He's a favorite of mine because we can see him do silly and we can see him do serious, and this role needs a careful balance of both, which he executed flawlessly. Though the real scene stealer was his sorta counterpart, Effie Trinket played by Elizabeth Banks. It takes a lot of presence to stand up there on the screen in those ridiculous outfits and just command her outrageous dialogue. The one that was gonna be the toughest sell for me was Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. Cinna is probably my favorite character in the series. Reading it, I was picturing Cillian Murphy and only Cillian Murphy. The announcement got the same reaction out of me that my movie buddy whispered when Kravitz first showed up "the \m/?! Lenny Kravitz?!" Word on the street is he got the role because of his work in Precious, and hearing that made me realize what the thought process was. I thought he sold it quite well. I think I still would have prefered Murphy, but Kravitz has this subdued cool that is such a contrast to the rest of the Capitol world, and put so much compassion into his relationship with Katniss. Beautifully really.

Plenty of other gems in the smaller roles. Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman owned every second of his screen time. I loved Wes Bentley's Seneca Crane. Donald Sutherland was perfectly cast as President Snow. Colombiana's mini-Cataleya Amandla Stenberg was exactly what you would want for Rue, and Orphan's Isabelle Fuhrman was deliciously evil as Clove.

Hmm. Other thoughts. The outfits for the parade thing were a little disappointing. I kinda wanted to get a better look at the other district outfits, and the District 12 ones seemed a bit less than I expected (even though I LOVED the hair). But Katniss' fire dress for the interview scene did make up for it. I like how the action sequences were done. Got their point across, kept the gore down to just pushing the boundaries of appropriate for the target audience, and some of the more swift executions had such a strong impact. Overall, worth the hype and I can't wait for Catching Fire.

Happy Hunger Games, and may the odds be ever in your favor
The Hunger Games - \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/