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The Hunger Games ***

The Hunger Games

Is it worth $10? Yes

Here’s some irony for you: The people most interested in seeing “The Hunger Games” are those who’ve read the book. But oddly, those who haven’t read the book will enjoy the movie more because it works reasonably well on its own, though not as well as fans of the book will hope.

Yes, I have read the book, and can fairly say this is a solid, economical adaptation without any major changes (the author of the novel, Suzanne Collins, worked on the screenplay). The story is about Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who in a dystopian future lives a paltry existence with her sister Prim (Willow Shields), their mother (Paula Malcolmson), and her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

Every year, as stipulated by government decree, each of the 12 districts of the country must select a 12-18 year-old male and female to fight to the death in the titular “Hunger Games” competition, which is broadcast nationwide. Often this means a tearful goodbye to friends and loved ones, which is what Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) do after they’re selected. They’re then whisked away to the Capitol and introduced to their mentor, the perpetually drunk Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and Katniss’ fashion designer Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), who becomes a trusted friend.

For readers, the fun part of seeing the story visualized is that it takes us out of Katniss’ first-person perspective and allows for a more objective point of view. What this means is that rather than only seeing/knowing what Katniss knows, director Gary Ross is able to jump from Caesar (Stanley Tucci) in the broadcast booth to Haymitch looking on to the Gamemakers manipulating the game. This way we see what’s going on behind the scenes in a way that we could only presume happened in the book.

The Hunger Games

The futuristic costume, set and production designs are top notch, but Ross (“Seabiscuit”) is not adept at shooting action. Many of the up-tempo moments are rushed and cluttered with no sense of space or clarity. This is frustrating because the jerky camera and quick edits result in befuddlement instead of heightened tension.

Then again, maybe Ross knows this and avoided action whenever possible. The biggest knock on the film – and the book has a similar problem – is that it takes too long to get to the games. The running time of 142 minutes isn’t an issue until you see that the first 80 or so lead up to the games, leaving the remaining 60 to rush through the games and get to the conclusion that sets up the sequel (you do know the book is part of a trilogy, right?). More time at the games and less with the minutiae of training in the Capitol would’ve been dearly welcome.

Lovers of the book will have their qualms and will probably be a smidge disappointed, but “The Hunger Games” is certainly no travesty. And if nothing else, it’s nowhere near “Twilight” awful.

Did you know?
The next installment of the trilogy, “Catching Fire,” chronicles another version of the Hunger Games in which a male and female victor from each district are selected to compete in the Games once again.