The Hunger Games is a movie about an oppressed society and a brutal competition where children kill one another as a means of maintaining order across a vast and barely stitched together country known as Panem. Mostly, director Gary Ross chooses to tell a story about Katniss, a young warrior from District 12 who has a lot to prove in the annual Games. It’s a story of poverty, rising up to the challenge, and finally, rebellion.
Our heroine, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), is almost as good at climbing as she is at shooting with a bow. Her true strength lies in her quick thinking, however. She’s able to adjust and adapt into the giggly girl who is on fire for the Capital or the insolent rebel who would rather chance death than commit an abhorrent act to appease those in charge. This should be fairly difficult to communicate onscreen, but Lawrence makes her character -- including the survival skills -- look easy.
Lawrence may be brilliant to watch, but she wouldn’t shine so brightly without the help of her surrounding cast. Donald Sutherland as Snow; Stanley Tucci’s rendition of the amiable celebrity, Caesar Flickerman; Liam Hemsworth’s subtleties as Gale; and Josh Hutcherson’s brute strength but gentle nature as Peeta shine through, as well. Then there’s Elizabeth Banks, playing Effie Trinket in all of her Capital glory, her kabuki lips as colorful as the rest of her costume. As Effie, Banks brings some added humor to a popular character from the book, but she also illustrates just how well the Capital’s surgeries, fashion, and makeup can make a regular person look alien and alienated from reality.
It’s difficult to recreate a world thousands upon thousands of people have imagined in their own minds. It would be an impossible task to hit every note for every person perfectly, because we don’t all envision scenes in exactly the same way. I don’t want to spend a lot of time shooting off about the differences between Ross’ movie and Suzanne Collins’ book, because if we are watching simply to catch missed moments, we aren’t really capable of being in the moment or enjoying the film for what it is -- careful.
There are so many details that should endear audiences to The Hunger Games. When Prim tucks in her shirt as she is called forward at the Reaping, for example, we can see how well the little details were laid out. These moments occur over and over again, as we encounter Seneca Crane’s facial hair for the first time, or see the Capital from the window of a train.
Still, not all of Ross’ choices are as perfect as they could be. The shaky camera effect to hide some of the worst violence is disarming, and at certain times the camera lingers on an emotional or sentimental moment when it could move forward. Regardless, Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games spends its nearly 2.5 hours creating a world that will invest audiences of all ages, that hits many of the right notes for fans of dystopian worlds, but also reaches out to those who invest in characters as well. Ross knew The Hunger Games could not be exactly like its fictional counterpoint, but he did capably fit the story to his own vision.
Viewers might have a moment of panic when they realize there are no extras on the same disc as the film. Have no fear, this is just because the bonus features are extensive and put together on a separate disc. The disc of extras doesn't feature a menu page quite as epic as the movie disc, but it does focus on District 12, which is almost as nice.
The bulk of the extras are contained in one extremely long featurette cut into sections called “The World Is Watching: The Making of the Hunger Games.” The first segment features the producers talking about the process of preparing the script and enlisting director Gary Ross. The lengthy featurette then moves on to casting with an exploration of each of the main characters. Veteran actors Sutherland and Woody Harrelson both have some nice things to say about Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss. The segment then moves on to cover the script, the costuming, the setting, the stunts, and even the hairdos. Here’s looking at you, Seneca Crane.
Part of "The World Is Watching" spends a lot of time discussing the effects. The segment juxtaposes hand-drawn scenes with CG illustrations and then the final project. The movie even managed to turn a random scene featuring Capital kids chasing one another with swords into a gambling hall full of people betting on the Hunger Games contestants!
Following that mammoth of an extra, there is “Gamemaker,” a featurette focusing on the book and some of the more prominent lines written by Collins. YA author and publisher David Levithan is all over this disc, but he has a lot of insight into Collins’ work, having published The Hunger Games as well as some of the author’s other works.
Finally, there is a strange letter from Sutherland expressing his feelings about Snow, as well as a Q&A session with Ross. If you don’t know everything you ever needed to know about the movie by this point, I highly doubt you bothered to watch the whole bonus disc. Rounding out the extras is the full propaganda video, a segment showing how a scene from the script was realized, and a gallery.
The one thing I will note is that some of the bonus features are exceptionally long, and there is no timeline to guide audiences or tell them how far they are into a given segment. The whole thing is a real time commitment. Overall, however, for avid fans, watching will be worth it.