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.
7:50: I'm ready to start this. I've just finished some leftover Chinese food, and now I'm ready to tear some people apart. Good thing I'm not at my own apartment because my old neighbor Madeline would surely stop giving me lemon tarts every week after a full night of screaming for more shots of Christina Hendricks.
7:51: Ah, commercial. Back to Law and Order: SVU to watch Robin Williams reboot his One Hour Photo creep.
7:59: HERE WE GO! BRING ON THE LOSERS!
8:00: OHHHHH snap just show me Tina Fey and I'll play along. Kate Gosselin, not so much.
8:01: NICE. BETTY WHITE AND JON HAMM. I'm liking this more than the cold noodles I just ate. Oh look! Jane Lynch's wax figure.
8:05: I really like this and everything, but if Conan O'Brien isn't there, I almost don't even want to watch anymore.
8:06 It's funny, I know I'm supposed to be looking at Jimmy Fallon, but I just keep going back to the guy from Lost who was in the news recently about something who had to do with Weezer.
8:07: January Jones is sitting next to Jason OMG CONAN IS THERE!
8:09: Ah yes, a montage of a year in comedy. Set to Chris Brown. Too perfect.
8:11: Is this the first category? Betty White looks like some kind of gradient you use in a Microsoft paint application.
8:13: Eric Stonestreet's rockin that "what's in his tux pocket?" look. So is Seacrest, incidentally. Aw, parents.
8:15: Can I just say thank Prosecco that it's not Jon Cryer?
8:18: Sofia Vergara's supposed to run naked if Modern Family wins. If she does, I suspect you'll check out a little bit early from this and I'll get to go do something crazy, like put on my Thundercats t-shirt.
8:21: Modern Family won best writing. Cool. Why did we go from Best Supporting Actor to best writing?
8:23: Every time I update this I just realize how I have 2 more hours to do this. It's like waiting for a plane that keeps getting delayed, and you're not in a cool city like Manhattan, Kansas.
8:25: BADASS, JANE LYNCH! BADASS. Thank your wife, Jane.
8:27: Matthew Perry's coming on? Where has he been? What, they couldn't get the cow that stands outside Stew Leonard's?
8:31: Oh, I see Lauren Graham was available.
8:33: Ryan Murphy for Best Directing, yeah, I see that. I also see that tux.
8:37: Alright bitches, let's slab some lube on Steve Carell and give him something new to play with.
8:38: WELL SHIT! JIM PARSONS FOR BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY. I don't get this one. Is he even strong enough to be wearing that tie?
8:40: Do I have any designated pee breaks while I'm doing this? I forgot to ask my boss. Maybe this commercial for "You Again" is the best one I'll get.
8:44: I feel like Jimmy isn't even in this. Where's the tweeting? AAAAND Neil Patrick Harris brings the first funny joke of the night.
8:45: Nice! Edie Falco just schooled Tina Fey and Lea Michele. That's her fourth Emmy! She's tied with Tina now, I think! What's the point of Jimmy Fallon's guitar? Is there a theme? Was I drinking when they tried to make it obvious?
8:49: Ah yes, Top Chef for best reality program. I can really say I've never watched this show because nobody ever breaks up with anybody. Padma looks like she just had Angelina Jolie/Billy Bob Thorton limo sex with the baby-daddy we know but kind of don't -- the one who invented Dell or something.
8:52: Lots of commercials for Oprah's last season. I feel like this award show is already so bipolar the Oprah stuff is overkill.
8:59: I will be VERY SURPRISED if Connie Britton and/or Kyle Chandler win. But this cliché montage music...WAIT. THE END OF LOST IS A MASS SUICIDE?! That dog must've been pretty pissed if he'd been there since the plane crashed.
9:04: NICE. Aaron Paul for Breaking Bad. This guy looks so ADD, but cool.
9:05: Did he even thank his mother? I know he told her to stop crying, but that just shows you how ADD he really is.
9:10: Wow, I have nothing to contribute about Archie Panjabi's win for The Good Wife. So instead, here's some video of a shih tzu puppy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FpjyCE-R4Y4 My boyfriend doesn't have Firefox, so I can't actually put the link in this post. But I promise you, it's worth the trouble of copying and then pasting into a new window. TRUST.
9:13: AWESOME. Bryan Cranston won his third Emmy. I seriously just started watching Breaking Bad yesterday, and to Michael C. Hall, whom I love: you deserve recognition too. Maybe go have a kid?
9:22: If Dexter only gets an award for Best Director, I will never watch another Emmys again.
9:23: If Jimmy Fallon's going to do this, he might as well go back to SNL. Seriously. JIMMY! HAVE YOU HIDDEN YOUR BALLS IN SOME STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE? Oh, I take it back. Boys II Men. Very nice.
9:27: AVON AVON AVON.
9:30: AVON AND WHISKIES.
9:31: These Twitter updates Jimmy Fallon keeps giving almost make me want to quit Twitter. Wow, Kyra Sedgwick for The Closer! Nobody saw that coming. Not even Paul the Octopus! WAIT SHE JUST PASSED HER EMMY OFF TO TINA FEY! Kyra, you got some bitch in you!
9:34: Do you think she's going to make Kevin Bacon do the Footloose dance tonight in celebration? It's such a waste if she doesn't. He even pimped it out for an episode of Will and Grace!
9:35: VARIETY! CONAN'S CATEGORY! WHAT SHALL I DO IF HE WINS? OH GOD, PLEASE LET HIM WIN. I WILL SIT DOWN IN SOMEONE'S BEDBUG-RIDDEN APARTMENT IF HE WINS.
9:37: Oh, nevermind. Writing for a variety special. Go back to watching some shih tzu puppies.
9:40: Did this asshole just thank Jay Leno?
9:43: How do you guys think Conan is passing the time while he's there? Do you think he's playing Tetris or something? He hasn't been tweeting.
9:46: Ricky Gervais should just do a vampire show already. Now that he's so skinny, your eyes immediately go to his Edward teeth.
9:47: Ah yes, Ricky Gervais does a Mel Gibson joke. "Not worse than the Jews!" he says! Stellar. Not even worse than when you walk into Pets on Lex because you're hungry and you find every puppy that's there in a dead puppy sleep.
9:51 OH SNAP IT'S HERE. I HOPE COCO SAVED HIS TETRIS GAME. THAT SHIT'S A BITCH TO START OVER.
9:53: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO'WEFHIAOWR723057208YFJNASDMVNMCXZV.NASDKLJF;EW857429---DWRU I;FDSHAF;ASHG;AGY8EWAOPTY9WPQT5729357Q2PIUE'WJFEIJIAKOFJLAKS;HFLAHREOIWRYOIWEYRDKVNSKLNVLFASKHFOAIWEYRO3YO3ITHASHGDSAKLFNLKSDFOIHOWA;IEHR;WOIH;OAEIHTO;AHW;OIASHGO;ADYG
9:53: JON STEWART. AND HE'S NOT EVEN THERE TO ACCEPT IT. I CAN'T BELIEVE I HAVE AN HOUR LEFT OF THIS.
9:57: I can't even enjoy a commercial for Nate Berkus' new show now.
10:00: And now I have to watch George Clooney accept something he'll probably lose on a plane when he's going to stay at his villa in Italy? Please.
10:01: Betty White even stood up to honor George. It just got like a vomitorium all up in here.
10:04: Does anybody watch these "mini-series" or "movies" things?
10:10: That commercial for Jimmy Smits playing a lawyer for Outlaw did less for me than Kim Kardashian's Twitter background.
10:17: GAMECHANGER! JEWEL! PLEASE TELL ME SHE'S GOING TO MISUSE THE WORD 'CASUALTY' AGAIN!
10:26: I think it just hit me that John Slattery didn't win for Mad Men.
10:30: Claire Danes for the win for Temple Grandin. She didn't thank her husband. Downgrade. Now I'm going to go back to googling whether or not Roy Disney was an anti semite.
10:35: Alexander Skaarsgard is officially Jack Skellington. If you don't know who that is, you don't get me and you never will.
10:38: Very nice, Al Pacino for You Don't Know Jack.
10:45: Laurence Fishburne! How's it going brother?! No Montana tonight? That's okay, she's probably studying algorithms.
10:51: Mad Men's third Emmy! I'd like to make a joke about how Fred Armisen deserves and Emmy for having been married to Scientologist Elisabeth Moss for 10 months, but I already took a crack at Jewel and I've gotten lazy after doing this for 2 hours and 53 minutes.
10:57: Who's this goat (thanks EB) and what did he do with Ted Danson! AAAND UPSET! MODERN FAMILY FOR BEST COMEDY SERIES!
10:59: AAAAAAAAAND I'm spent. Remember to tip your lobotomist and visit Hollywood.com for the latest and greatest on awards you'll never win.