The smash hit movie The Hunger Games is based on the first novel of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian YA trilogy. The movie itself weighs in at a heavy 142 minute run-time, but each minute has been well spent in condensing the book and translating it to film.

The first book introduces us to a post-apocalyptic United States where the mysterious Capitol has established the new nation of Panem, ruling it cruelly and when their subjects rebelled years ago, the Capitol violently squashed the Districts years ago. As reparations for the Districts’ insolence, the annual Hunger Games were set up 74 years ago by the Capitol. The Games take a male and female ‘tribute’ aged between 12 and 18 from each District. The tributes are selected in a lottery process, and there are twelve Districts, so twenty-four children are slated to fight each other to the death with the Games being televised to all. The sole survivor gets to escape the Games.

The movie faithfully adapts this script by omitting details not truly needed, and adding a few nice touches that serve to enhance the story visually. The Mockingjay pin was visually represented, as a way to foreshadow the next few movies to be adapted from the rest of the series. The casting was terrific, with Jennifer Lawrence cast as Katniss, the hero. It seems a bit strange that when her role was announced, several people denounced it or doubted her effectiveness at portraying Katniss. I think those fears can safely be put to rest now.

Lenny Kravitz is fantastic as Cinna, and adding to the character was how Cinna was portrayed with simple & tasteful costuming / cosmetic touches. Caesar and Effie’s costumes weren’t too over the top, and the general understated tone of makeup across the board was very much appreciated by me. Sometimes, less is more. The only part of the movie that didn’t really hold up for me was the Tributes’ entrance – the CGI didn’t really impart the effect the director intended it to do. But for just about everything else, the CGI was superb. The flaming dress. The ‘holographic’ computer. The other tiny touches integrated within the movie itself. The only point where the special effects really failed was the wide & long shot of the stadium where the Tributes entered.

The choice of location and the cinematography was stunning. Having grown up in North Carolina, and specifically in the actual area the movie was filmed, just seeing the landscape brought back memories of my youth. District 12 in particular was superbly chosen – a ghost town in western North Carolina known as Henry River, and the arena was a composite of several locations around North Carolina. Perhaps the best known scenes from the Hunger Games were the waterfalls – Triple Falls and the area around Hooker Falls as well (DuPont State Forest).

The general area of NC (in fall) where the Hunger Games was filmed
The Hunger Games specifically filmed around this road

There is a wonderful website about NC waterfalls and one man’s journey to see as many (and photograph) them as he can. For years I’ve visited his website, and due to the Hunger Games – I am sure visits to his website will explode upwards. To see photographs of some of the waterfalls (and other ones not featured in the movie), check out Rich Stevenson’s wonderful site: ncwaterfalls.com or if you’re just interested in the DuPont locations. I’ve also been lucky to visit the area myself several years ago as well. Here’s a photo of me at Hooker Falls in November of 2006 (which is why I’m wearing a wool coat):

Nick at Hooker Falls

Back to the Hunger Games – the movie remains very faithful to the book and it’s pretty high up there for a book-to-movie adaptation. It helps a lot that Suzanne Collins adapted her own book for the screen. That’s certainly one of the biggest benefits this movie has going for it – that and it’s a great movie in its own right. The promotional strategy Lionsgate used for the Hunger Games was pitch-perfect, including an ingenious 100-piece digital puzzle they released during the 2011 Christmas season of posters for the Hunger Games.

The premise of this puzzle was that Lionsgate distributed a single piece to 100 different digital media outlets – users were left to find puzzle pieces via Twitter, Facebook, and all the sites across the Internet, print them out, and then assemble the movie poster. That’s a brilliant marketing strategy and built strong word of mouth amongst the rabid Hunger Games fans. (Also great for the partnering sites – I am sure a lot of them got some new readers from the exposure they got from their participation in the campaign).

To better understand the all-encompassing process that this was, People Magazine had piece #51 as shown:

There was a related article posted on People Magazine as well. Now, that’s truly a digital ephemeral pursuit! You had to track down all 100 pieces, print them out, and then post the solved image to Twitter. Revealing the power of the Internet – the puzzle was solved in a few hours after being distributed by ‘@JohnsHoward‘ on Twitter. And of course, it’s wonderful fodder for creative artists and students – you can find some fantastic “fan art” being produced by these graphic designers. One of my favorite collections of fan art was made by Risa Rodil.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that seeing the movie in the theater truly does this movie justice. The bass effect of the booming cannonballs and the splendor of North Carolina’s lush countryside intermingle and truly brings Collins’ vision alive during the actual Hunger Games in the arena. Despite running more than 2 hours plus, I had no reservations sitting through the entire movie and would have happily sat through another showing immediately afterwards. I would also have no problem going back to the theater to pay to watch the movie again after any number of screenings. It’s that good.

This is also the rare movie where I’m comfortable telling you that you can watch either the movie or read the book in no particular order. I don’t believe either is too different from the other, and I wasn’t disappointed by what was left out of the movie. In fact, if I had watched the movie first and then read the book, my previous experience with the movie wouldn’t have soured me on the book. That’s a remarkable achievement and as such, I’m comfortable giving The Hunger Games my highest recommendation – an A+ rating.

MPAA Rating: PG-13
Rating: (*****)
Director: Gary Ross
Studio: Lionsgate
Captioned System: Captiview
Captions: A+ (a couple of errors midway through the movie, but overall, EXCELLENT captioning)

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