"The World Will be Watching" is a very appropriate slogan for a movie that goes in to its release date with a huge built in fan base that has devoured a story originally presented over three best selling novels.
With high expectations firmly in place, the movie's success will depend on big box office numbers and that means recreating a story that will please both fans of the books and also those, like myself, that know virtually nothing about the story going in.
"The Hunger Games" is adapted from a book that is the first of a hugely popular series about a near future America has broken in to 12 districts called Panem and is controlled by a central government called The Capitol. Each year, two youths from each of the districts are chosen by a lottery to compete in a competition where they are pitted against each other in a fight to the death.
The Hunger Games themselves are presented to the districts as a form of entertainment and provides just enough hope that a win might earn them some relief from The Capitol's oppression. Representing District 12, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are put through a training regimen that will prepare them both mentally and physically for a contest they are not likely to survive.
What I really liked about this movie was how the story not only stands on its own as a great piece of entertainment, but you also see that this is just the first glimpse of a much larger world that you can't wait to see more of. Filled with very engaging characters, you are instantly drawn in to a world that is set in the not too distant future, but presents societal issues that are very relevant to what people are dealing with today.
Director Gary Ross, who is best known for classic films like "Big" and "Seabiscuit", seems to have been a great choice to bring a very complex story to the screen in a way that would provide a great balance between the dramatic elements and the action filled special effects.
Jennifer Lawrence, in just a short amount of time, has established herself as an actress that can take on any role thrown her way. First gaining attention with a breakthrough performance in the Oscar nominated "Winter's Bone" and then reinventing the role of Mystique in the 2011 blockbuster "X-Men: First Class", she now steps up and takes on her first leading role of a major event feature film.
What impressed me the most about her in this movie was the level of raw emotion she brings to the performance. She seems to know exactly what to do with each moment of the story and this really gets the audience invested in her character which is essential to how the movie plays out. There are a couple scenes in particular where she is able to project a very real sense of the moment she is which really sells the character to the audience.
The other performance I was very pleased with was Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, who is a former winner of the games and mentor to both Katniss and Peeta. I can definitely see his character having a lot more to do as the story progresses and the same with the roles of Gale Hawthorne and President Snow played by Liam Hemsworth and Donald Sutherland respectively.
"The Hunger Games" is definitely deserving of its blockbuster status, with a story that packs a serious punch and a cast and crew that seems more than up to the task of bringing it all to the screen. On opening night, the theater I was in was full of people that were cheering for their heroes and everyone just seemed fully invested in what was going on and, at the end, there was a huge buzz as everyone talked about what they just saw and speculated on what is still to come.