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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Despite minor flaws, ‘Hunger Games’ worthy adaptation

By Rod Pocowatchit
The Wichita Eagle

The Hunger Games” is a veritible hit, smashing box office records and earning more than $250 million domestically (according to boxofficemojo.com) since opening on March 23. The film seems to show no signs of slowing down, either, and is predicted to eventually earn about $350 million domestically.

The story takes place in the post-apocalyptic ruins of North America, in what is now known as Panem. Each year, a lottery is held and two children each from 12 “districts” are forced to participate in a televised fight to the death, with the last survivor being the victor.

Jennifer Lawrence (an Oscar nominee for “Winter’s Bone) stars as heroine Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to participate in the “games” instead of her younger sister, whose name is actually drawn. We follow Katniss as she trains for the death match and finally enters battle. There’s also a love story, of sorts, along the way involving Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the other teen chosen to represent their district in the games.

I thought the film was a pretty faithful adaptation of the young-adult book by Suzanne Collins (the first in a trilogy, followed by “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay”), at least in terms of what happens. The film doesn’t however, capture the novel’s symbolism or emotional impact.

In fact, while I enjoyed seeing the book come to life on screen, it’s rather methodical. Everything pre-games lacks urgency, which is strange. These kids are training for a fight to the death!

While the screenplay by Collins, director Gary Ross and Billy Ray has the kids saying they know they may die, the film doesn’t portray them as being consumed with overwhelming fear, as one might be in this situation.

It’s as if the film were afraid to embrace its darkness, for fear of losing young fans of the book. Actually, I keep getting asked by parents if they should let their young teenagers see “The Hunger Games.” And it makes me think that my problems with the film are exactly what makes it OK for younger viewers (especially in this day and age).

While “The Hunger Games” has a grisly, horrific premise, the film actually doesn’t dwell on this. In fact, most of the killings are done swiftly and matter-of-factly, not overly gory or with heightened tension. When the film finally is set during the games, director Ross employs overly shaky camerawork that makes it hard to tell what’s going on, anyway (frustratingly so).

So I say if your child can handle the book, then he or she most certainly can handle the film, although I wouldn’t recommend it for small children. I was shocked to see parents with grade-school-age kids in the audience — this isn’t a kiddie comedy, folks. People — children — die.

Overall, in the end, I thought the film was good, but a tad safe. We do sympathize and root for the characters, thanks to good performances, particularly by Lawrence — there is undeniable emotional investment.

While it is thrilling, it’s just not absolutely riveting. And it should have been.

Reach Rod Pocowatchit at rpocowatchit@wichitaeagle.com.

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