In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
Michael Imperioli said it best-- there are "a lot of new faces."
That's the perfect way to describe the morning's 2005 Primetime Emmy Award nominations that turned out to be a great awakening for some of TVs newcomers, but a rude awakening for those first-timers who got snubbed.
The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Chairman of the Board Dick Askin, along with a very un-gangster-like Imperioli of The Sopranos and Still Standing's Jami Gertz, not looking so Square Pegs in a cleavage baring bustier top (and at 5:30 in the morning, no less), announced the 57th annual Emmy nominations live from the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood.
Askin told Hollywood.com there are about twice as many new faces compared to last year.
And here's a little bit of trivia: Did you know the Emmy nomination broadcast is the only press conference with a jib camera spanning the room (That's right, not even the Oscars has one-you know, that long poled camera arm that can practically reach across a room.) This morning the jib had the best gig in the house; to focus solely on the golden girl herself-Emmy-high atop a platform. With publicists, agents and camera crews filling the theatre, it's not surprising this morning is an event all its own.
The biggest news came for those housewives, who aren't looking so desperate-all but two, at least. Each first-time nominees-- Marcia Cross, Teri Hatcher and Felicity Huffman-- all got nods for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, leaving Nicolette Sheridan and Eva Longoria, well, desperate. That feat hasn't been done since Golden Girls 20 years ago.
The nominated housewives are also going up against Malcolm in the Middle's Jane Kaczmarek, who has now garnered six nominations for her role on the hit Fox series, but has never won; and Patricia Heaton, who everybody loves in Everybody Loves Raymond (even this morning's audience cheered for the actress, who's already taken home two statues for her portrayal as Ray Romano's wife.) Romano and the series also got nods for Outstanding Lead Actor and Comedy Series, with Ray also winning twice before. We'll see if the third time's the charm. Peter Boyle, Brad Garrett and Doris Roberts also made the list in the Supporting Actor categories.
And you might recognize other first-time nominees, most of whom hail from the big screen-- Patricia Arquette (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Medium), Hugh Laurie (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, House), Ian McShane (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Deadwood), S. Epatha Merkerson (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, Lackawanna Blues), Debra Winger (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, Dawn Anna), Ed Harris (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, Empire Falls), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, Elvis), Geoffrey Rush (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers), Jason Bateman (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, Arrested Development), Zach Braff (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, Scrubs), Charlize Theron (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, Empire Falls), to name a lot.
Other silver screen favorites include Halle Berry for her work in Their Eyes Are Watching God, Blythe Danner for Back When We Were Grownups, Kenneth Branagh for Warm Springs, William H. Macy for The Wool Cap and Tony Shalhoub for Monk.
Husband and wife nominated teams this year include Macy and Huffman and Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward (both for Empire Falls).
Gertz, who commented that she's "been around the block, as they say," has many favorites who are in the running to take home a statue, but she couldn't pick just one to win: "I just want all my friends to win," Jami said, who include Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series nominees Kiefer Sutherland (who's been nominated three times before for 24 and has never won), Hank Azaria (Huff) and James Spader (Boston Legal).
In other legal briefs, The Practice alum Camryn Manheim grabbed a spot in the Supporting Actress/Miniseries category for her portrayal of Elvis's mother in Elvis (to which Gertz did a perfect rendition of that famous Elvis accent), and Boston Legal's William Shatner for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.
Lost could only be found in one of the acting categories for Naveen Andrews and Terry O'Quinn for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, but it did nab a top nod for Outstanding Drama Series. And history repeats itself with The West Wing up for Outstanding Drama Series (which holds the titles for most Emmys won by a series in its first and single season with 9), but the Academy didn't salute the President (a.k.a. Martin Sheen) or Allison Janney, who always wins the Emmy. But Stockard Channing and Alan Alda won the Academy's recognition in the Supporting categories.
In a twist, those two high-tech mystery solving ensembles CSI and Law & Order also disappeared from this year's list in the acting categories, except for Mariska Hargitay for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, who's going head-to-head against fellow crime fighter Jennifer Garner (Alias), Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under), Glenn Close (The Shield) and Arquette (Medium). Nip/Tuck was also cut out of the running with the lead characters garnering zero nods.
Nominated shows coming in on top include Desperate Housewives with 15 nods, Will & Grace 15, Everybody Loves Raymond 13, Lost 12, Arrested Development 11, Deadwood 11, 24 11 and Empire Falls, 10.
HBO picked up the most nominations with 93, even without help from the ineligible Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Sopranos, but is down from last year because of the absence of Angels In America, which holds the record for most Emmy's won by a miniseries. CBS leads the networks with 59; NBC 54; ABC 51 and Fox 49-all of which have made a comeback this year.
"Another trend I think is the return of the broadcast networks. I mean, all of their nominations are significantly up from last year. ABC was up 65% in numbers and CBS was 75%,"said Askin.
And expect a few modern upgrades to this year's Emmy show.
"There's going to be a lot of things different. I can't tell you anything about the show yet 'cause it's kind of in the planning stages right now. We don't want to change it dramatically, but we want to kind of update it for today's audience," said Askin.
ATAS will hand out the Emmy trophies on Sunday, Sept. 22 at a black-tie ceremony at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
A partial list of nominees as follows:
Outstanding Comedy Series
Arrested Development, Fox
Desperate Housewives, ABC
Everybody Loves Raymond, CBS
Will & Grace, NBC
Outstanding Drama Series
Six Feet Under, HBO
The West Wing, NBC
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Jason Bateman, Arrested Development
Ray Romano, Everybody Loves Raymond
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Zach Braff, Scrubs
Eric McCormack, Will & Grace
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives
Teri Hatcher, Desperate Housewives
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Patricia Heaton, Everybody Loves Raymond
Jane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development
Jeremy Piven, Entourage
Peter Boyle, Everybody Loves Raymond
Brad Garrett, Everybody Loves Raymond
Sean Hayes, Will & Grace
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Jessica Walter, Arrested Development
Doris Roberts, Everybody Loves Raymond
Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men
Conchata Ferrell, Two and a Half Men
Megan Mullally, Will & Grace
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
James Spader, Boston Legal
Ian McShane, Deadwood
Hugh Laurie, House
Hank Azaria, Huff
Kiefer Sutherland, 24
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Jennifer Garner, Alias
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
Patricia Arquette, Medium
Glenn Close, The Shield
Frances Conroy, Six Feet Under
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
William Shatner, Boston Legal
Oliver Platt, Huff
Naveen Andrews, Lost
Terry O'Quinn, Lost
Alan Alda, The West Wing
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Sandra Oh, Grey's Anatomy
Blythe Danner, Huff
Tyne Daly, Judging Amy
CCH Pounder, The Shield
Stockard Channing, The West Wing
Empire Falls, HBO
The 4400, USA
The Lost Prince (Masterpiece Theatre), PBS
Outstanding Made for Television Movie
Lackawanna Blues, HBO
The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, HBO
The Office Special, BBC America
Warm Springs, HBO
The Wool Cap, TNT
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Elvis
Ed Harris, Empire Falls
Geoffrey Rush, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Kenneth Branagh, Warm Springs
William H. Macy, The Wool Cap
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Blythe Danner, Back When We Were Grownups (Hallmark Hall Of Fame
Debra Winger, Dawn Anna
S. Epatha Merkerson, Lackawanna Blues
Halle Berry, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Cynthia Nixon, Warm Springs
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie
Randy Quaid, Elvis
Paul Newman, Empire Falls
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Empire Falls
Christopher Plummer, Our Fathers
Brian Dennehy, Our Fathers
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie
Camryn Manheim, Elvis
Joanne Woodward, Empire Falls
Charlize Theron, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers
Jane Alexander, Warm Springs
Kathy Bates, Warm Springs
Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
Da Ali G Show, HBO
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Comedy Central
Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC
Late Show with David Letterman, CBS
Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO
Outstanding Reality Program
Antiques Roadshow, PBS
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, ABC
Penn & Teller: Bullshit!, Showtime
Project Greenlight, Bravo
Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, Bravo
Outstanding Reality-Competition Program
The Amazing Race, CBS
American Idol, Fox
The Apprentice, NBC
Project Runway, Bravo