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.
Universal Studios is getting ready for a third helping of American Pie, which is set to begin filming in January. According to Variety, Pie 3 has been in the works for some time, but dealmaking with the actors--whose sequel options did not extend beyond American Pie 2--was complex. So far, Seann William Scott, Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan and Eugene Levy have all signed on to reprise their roles. Director Jesse Dylan (How High) is in negotiations to direct the film, written by Adam Herz. Pie 3 is slated for an August 2003 release.
'N Sync star Lance Bass may see his dreams of going to space squashed unless he comes up with a substantial chunk of change. The singer, who has been training in Star City just outside Moscow, is set to join an October mission to the International Space Station. But a spokesperson for Russia's space agency said Wednesday his contract could be dissolved because the first payment has been delayed, Reuters reports. The flight costs a reported $20 million.
Actor Jeremy Irons found a productive way to pass the time when he found himself in a messy airport lounge after his flight was diverted to Shannon Airport in southwestern Ireland, Reuters reports. Apparently upset by the sight of beer-drenched tables and overflowing ashtrays, Jeremy grabbed some cleaning supplies and started cleaning. The Oscar-winning actor was en route to his castle in Cork, southern Ireland.
The 2004 movie awards season is getting a makeover, sparked in part by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' decision to move its annual Oscar ceremony from its traditional late-March berth to Feb. 29. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Screen Actors Guild is moving its own televised awards ceremony to Sunday, Feb. 8, 2004, at the Los Angeles Shrine Exposition Center--a month earlier than has been the norm. The 2003 SAG ceremonies will take place as scheduled Sunday, March 9, two weeks before the Oscars on March 23.
After a series of flops and an extended hiatus from studio films, Demi Moore has agreed to take on a small role in Charlie's Angels 2: Halo, which is slated for release next June. According to Variety, Moore will play a former, "fallen," angel working on the other side of the law. Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu and Cameron Diaz will reprise their roles in the sequel to the 2000 hit.
Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme may reunite with his Silence of the Lambs star Jodie Foster. Paramount Pictures and producer Scott Rudin have asked scribe Richard Price to pen an original idea specifically designed for the director and the actress, Variety reports. The yet-untitled project is loosely described by sources as a thriller set in a modern urban setting.
MGM has hired Don D. Scott to write a sequel to Ice Cube's upcoming urban comedy Barbershop, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Director Tim Story is in negotiations to helm the project. The film, which opens Sept. 13, is an ensemble story that takes place in the course of a day at a barbershop on Chicago's South Side. Positive test screenings prompted the studio to move forward with the project, but no deals have yet been made with the actors to return.
Kid Rock will star in DreamWorks Picture's urban motorcycle project titled Biker Boyz. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Kid Rock will join a cast that includes Lisa Bonet, Laurence Fishburne, Derek Luke, Orlando Jones, Brendan Fehr and Meagan Good. The film follows the real-life exploits of Manuel Galloway, a California motorcycle club president known as the King of Cali. Kid Rock will play Dog, the leader of a rival motorcycle club.