Saturday, November 26, 2011

Analysis of the Hunger Games Theatrical Trailer

The first theatrical trailer for The Hunger Games was recently released.

Obviously, this is a highly-protected clip, so I can't embed the trailer, but here's the link: 


The Hunger Games is arguably the most highly-anticipated movie of 2012 and by the looks of this trailer, it's not going to be a movie you want to miss.

My favorite aspect of this trailer is the fact that it shows next to nothing from the actual Games. It shows the events that lead up to the Hunger Games, but nothing from inside the arena. This is a brilliant move. For many book-to-movie adaptations, fans of the books often get discouraged with how much of the plot is revealed in the trailers. This is mostly the case with the Harry Potter trailers. Fans who rip apart the trailers shot by shot feel like they've seen the whole film in the trailers. I've never felt this way because, come on, there's no way a two and half minute trailer will spoil the entire film.

Another aspect that really impressed me was the way this trailer is edited. There are a few amazing sections of this trailer where the editing is stellar.

There's an element of speed-up/slow-down in the editing of this trailer. By that I mean there are a few times where there is a quick succession of shots of the same moment and then a longer beat immediately following to let the moment breathe. I'll point them out as I go. This kind of editing allows for an anxious, urgent feel without over-whelming the viewer with extremely fast cutting. It's rare that a trailer is this well-sculpted. Lionsgate Entertainment is clearly aware of the level of scrutiny this trailer will receive.

So, let's begin the scrutiny, shall we?

The trailer starts with shots of Katniss in District 12. We hear Gale say, "We could do it, you know. Take off, live in the woods" and Katniss say, "We wouldn't make it five miles." I like the look of District 12. It's very primitive looking, as it should be.

Look how gorgeous this landscape is!

I like how the trailer starts by establishing Katniss and Gale's relationship. In the beginning, Katniss' friendship with Gale is the strongest relationship she has. I think Liam Hemsworth will make a good Gale. I was iffy about the casting choice at first because he's mostly famous for being Miley Cyrus' on-again off-again boyfriend first and an actor second, but I'm liking what I see.

There is a sense of something close to happiness and normalcy in the beginning of the trailer, but it quickly dies out when the hovercraft flies over the forest. Katniss and Gale quickly hide because they are illegally beyond the boundaries of District 12.

I really like the music cue that kicks in when we see the names of the production companies. It's weirdly futuristic and there's a feeling of anticipation in it.

Then we see shots of the children gathering for the Reaping. The color pallet in these shots is fantastic. It's mostly grays and blues. When I look at these shots of the children somberly walking along, I'm somehow reminded of how World War II concentration camps are often portrayed in films.

Elizabeth Banks looks awesome as Effie Trinket. I was really excited when this casting choice was announced. Banks is one of those actresses who has managed to not be tied down in a specific genre. She's been in everything from the Spiderman films to Judd Apatow comedies. She's even played Laura Bush. Banks is almost unrecognizable from film to film because she has the bone structure and coloring that make it easy for her to look good with any hair cut and hair color.

Kudos to the hair and make-up team for expertly capturing the Capitol look. During the filming of The Hunger Games, Banks did a funny interview in which she revealed that the make-up artists bleached her eyebrows so it looked like she didn't have any in order to achieve this look.

Banks has also done a great job of altering her voice into Effie's Capitol accent.

During Effie's explanation of the Reaping, we see a shot of little Willow Shields, who plays Primrose Everdeen, Katniss' sister. This is her first feature film role. The casting of the adults and teenagers in the film is excellent, so I have faith that the younger actors are great too. Shields certainly looks the part.

We see Katniss comforting Prim and saying, "It's your first year, Prim. Your name's only been in there once. They're not going to pick you." During this section of the trailer I started getting knots in my stomach. The filmmakers have done an excellent job capturing the gritty, awful nature of the Reaping.

Then comes the first example of the speed-up/slow-down editing. There are seven spliced shots of Effie's hand in the bowl picking a name. Each shot is punctuated with a beat in the music. After this quick succession of shots, there is a longer beat in the editing and the music as Effie opens the piece of paper.

I love this wide shot of Effie on the stage. One of these things is not like the other.

And then Prim's name is chosen.

When I see a movie that's based on a book I love, I'm always amazed at how the images and acting is so much more powerful than reading the words on a page. Just look at how scared and innocent Prim looks. It makes the terrible reality of the Reaping and the Games heart-wrenching.

And speaking of heart-wrenching...
Man, oh man. How I love Jennifer Lawrence. There were many reports from casting directors and producers that many people were moved to tears by her audition. Her shriek of "I volunteer!" gives me chills every time I've watched this trailer. I also like this little touch of her shoving the guards out of the way.

And now for more wonderful editing. There is a series of shots of Prim being carried away by Gale and Katniss being escorted away by the guards. Prim's scream of "No!" makes me a little teary. I'm fairly certain this scene is going to make a lot of people in the audience cry.

Then we see Effie draw Peeta's name. This is another example of the speed-up/slow-down editing. Effie opens the paper with Peeta's name and there are six quick shots of Peeta being beckoned by Effie and walking up to the stage. Then comes the slow-down: two longer shots of Peeta and Katniss looking at each other. Again, the editing is punctuated with music.


 I think Josh Hutcherson is a perfect Peeta. It's been four years since he stole my heart as Jess in Bridge to Terabithia, and I think he just keeps getting better. I loved him in The Kids Are All Right. He's definitely a young actor to keep your eye on.

Next, we hear Gale say, "They just want a good show, that's all they want." And Katniss replies, "There's 24 of us, Gale, and only one comes out." This is yet another stomach-turning moment for me. Just look at the sadness and despair in Jennifer Lawrence's eyes as she says that line.

There's a couple of shots of the train with Peeta and then there's a super-fab overhead shot of The Capitol. Obviously, this is a computer-generated shot, but just look at how gorgeous it is! The Capitol is meant to be set into the Rockie Mountains and you can see them off to the left.

We see shots of Katniss being groomed by her prep team as she says to Cinna, "So you're here to make me look pretty."

Then Cinna says, "I'm here to help you make an impression." Lenny Kravitz as Cinna was an unusual casting choice, but I think he looks and sounds great. He has the gold eyeliner that's described in the books.

Now for my FAVORITE moment of editing in this entire trailer: Katniss being presented in her dress during the interview. There are four quick shots of her being twirled by Caesar Flickerman. This sequence of shots has a sense of urgency to it. It's almost frantic, which is an externalization of how Katniss is feeling in the moment. At this point in the book, she's feeling a little out of control. Since the Reaping, she's been pushed and pulled by so many people. When she looks back at the interview later, Katniss barely recognizes herself. Again, it's the music that makes the editing work. The percussion elevates the feeling of anxiety. 

We also get our first brief glimpse of Stanley Tucci as Flickerman.

Then there's voice-over from President Snow, played by Donald Sutherland (that piece of casting news practically made me fall out of my chair with excitement).

"And so it was decreed that each year, the twelve districts of Panem shall offer up in tribute one young man and woman between the ages of twelve and eighteen to be trained in the art of survival and to be prepared to fight to the death." During the voice-over we see a brief shot of Katniss in her flaming costume in the parade...

...a brief shot of the tributes in a circle in the training arena...

...and a shot of Peeta during the interview in his suit that matches Katniss' dress.

When President Snow says the word "twelve" we see a shot of Rue peeking around a corner. Doesn't she look perfect?? This is just Amandla Stenberg's second feature film. I really like that the casting director has pulled from unknown actors for the tributes. With the A-list actors playing the adults, it's nice to have some fresh faces.

When Snow says "eighteen" we see a shot of Cato, played by Alexander Ludwig.

Then there's a series of shots of the tributes in the training arena and then we get our first look at Seneca Crane, the Head Gamemaker. He's another display of the fantastic hair and make-up

Next, we see Haymitch saying, "This is the time to show them everything. Make sure they remember you." This is the advice Haymitch gives Katniss before she has her private session with the Gamemakers where she is given a score for her abilities.

Woody Harrelson is playing Haymitch Abernathy. His casting was a bit of a shock to fans because he doesn't look much like the book's description. When I read the book I pictured Haymitch as a Jack Black-type. I despise Jack Black, so I'm not at all suggesting that he should have been cast, but his body type and persona is similar to the Haymitch I think of when I read the books. However, in real life Harrelson is quirky and weird, so he'll be a good match, I think.

Next, we see Katniss in the private session with the Gamemakers. She shoots a silver arrow into the dead-center of a target and then there's a shot of Seneca Crane turning sharply around. This is the moment in the books where Katniss can't hold the attention of the Gamemakers, so she shoots an arrow at them.

Then we see Katniss and Peeta sitting in a windowsill over-looking the city. Peeta says, "I just keep wishing I could think of a way to show them that they don't own me. If I'm going to die, I want to still be me." Katniss replies, "I just can't afford to think like that." These scenes between Katniss and Peeta before the Games are some of my favorite moments from the book. It is so difficult for them to comprehend the madness of what they are expected to do in the arena, that they just talk it out between themselves. There's so much plot to fit into one movie that I wouldn't be surprised if there's only one of these scenes in the movie. I'm okay with that as long as it's a well-written scene.

Then comes the tagline: "THE GAMES WILL CHANGE EVERYONE." I really appreciate that it doesn't say "The Games will change everything." That would be too cliche. The use of "everyone" is more accurate, anyway. Everyone in the story, both inside and outside of the arena, is changed by the 74th annual Hunger Games.

We see Katniss being escorted through the chamber underneath the arena.

These next two shots were a pleasant surprise. There's a shot of a huge television screen with Katniss on it giving the three-fingered salute to the people of District 11. Then we see District 11 responding.

As the countdown begins, we see Katniss in the glass tube that raises her up into the arena. As she goes up, she looks at Cinna who nods.

As the countdown reaches five, the trailer cuts to a different shot on each number.

Five: Katniss on a jumbo screen

Four: One of the districts watching the Games. Clearly, we are going to get to see the Games from multiple vantage points, unlike in the book where we only get Katniss' point of view.

Three: A close-up of Prim

Two: A shot of Gale in a field in District 12

One: Back to Katniss in the arena

When the countdown reaches one, all the tributes take off at top speed for the Cornucopia.

And the title card appears:

And as a fabulous Easter egg for all the die-hard fans, we hear Rue's four-note song play over the title card.

And then it's over.

Congratulations if you've made it this far :)

This analysis is somewhat of a love note to the casting director and the editor.

As you can tell I'm wicked excited for this movie. It comes out two days before my birthday. Could I ask for a better present?