Dec 16, 2012

Movies: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Ok, let's save the annoying intro about huge expectations, the dramedy of changing directors, and the horrifying decision to turn a small children's book into a giant movie trilogy, and cut to the chase. And the chase is this - The Hobbit is finally here. And it is big. But is it big enough?

No, it isn't. And yes, it kinda is. Coming as a prequel to the biggest fantasy movie franchise ever made, carries a lot of pressure and expectations. The visuals of Middle Earth are inherited, and a huge change in aesthetics is not only unnecessary, but undesirable as well. However, The Lord of the Rings was a dark epic story, while The Hobbit is a fun children-friendly adventure. So how do you translate the visuals of a dark epic to that? The answer is - you go multiple personality on it. An Unexpected Journey is much lighter in tone, but features elements that do not match this. We remember goblins in The Fellowship as those blood-thirsty, wall-crawling clicking monstrosities, yet here they are more of a fairy-tale affair with British accents... who still look exactly the same as before. Ditto for trolls who LOOK like the elephantine aberration we saw in Moria once upon a time, yet do snot-jokes and argue about how to cook dwarves best...

But instead of fraking up the tone of the movie, this dissonance works pretty neatly more often than not, and when it doesn't, it doesn't really take that much from the experience. The real problem with An Unexpected Journey is that it's quite... surface. It looks like The Lord of the Rings, but it doesn't really speak like it. The characters each have their clear individuality, but none of them - with the possible exception of Bilbo (Martin Freeman) - is really explored in any capacity. They are interesting, and cool, and they're just kind of there. Meanwhile, every epic scene feels just a tiiiiiny bit too much like posturing than real story-telling, every appearance of an old character is on the edge of fan service. Whether it teeters on the other side is up for debate, but one thing is hard to deny - The Hobbit is trying to be like something else (the original trilogy) instead of being its own thing.

That said, it tries hard and it gives its best, and it is a damn good entertainment for it. Apart from a sluggish (though very fun and charming) opening, the movie is a fast-paced adventure in Middle Earth that in fact shows more of it than the LotR movies - with their Saving the World stakes - did. And the new cast is simply magnificent. Martin Freeman as Bilbo is as good of a choice as could have possibly been made, and he gives us the absolutely best hobbit imaginable. He is charming, awkward, a bit stiff, but crafty, smart and beneath the whole proper rural gentleman facade - a true hero. I loved every second of his performance.

The thirteen dwarves are a mixed lot, though each and every one of them - even those with no lines - is memorable in some way. Of course, it's Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) that steals the camera among them, though ironically he is the least original in the lot - a brooding brave dethroned prince with a lot of determination and anger. Armitage does make the role strong though, so we forgive the fantasy stereotype.

Of the old acquaintances, it is Gandalf (Ian McKellen) that we see the most of, and he is somewhat... meh? A mixture between "tired of the role" and "why is he being so weird?", as far as I was concerned, the 2012 Gandalf is somewhat erratic in his behavior (more so than before), and combines epic splitting of stones with sneaking about like a guilty kid. As far as the rest of the Council is concerned, I thoroughly loved Galadriel (Kate Blanchette) whose over-the-top fantasyesque presence was completely out of this world (and also made of cameo posturing), was indifferent to Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and was somewhat annoyed with Saruman (Christopher Lee) who was way too obviously evil for my taste.

The true gem is Gollum (Andy Serkis) who of course features in probably the most iconic scene in the whole book, and one of the most important moments of the entire Middle Earth Mythos - the riddle game and the stealing of the One Ring. It is by far the best scene in the entire movie, with the dynamic between Gollum and Bilbo absolutely delightful and entrancing, and I believe the special effects animating the poor wretch have evolved considerably since last we saw him. The moment when the invisible Bilbo makes the choice to spare his life is so touching with Gollum's expression of helpless vulnerability that you feel absolute certainty that, were you in Bilbo's shoes, you'd be unable to swing the sword either.

Special effects (see that smooth transition, eh? Eh?) are of course phenomenal, though the shooting process (of which I don't know enough to actually talk about it without embarrassing myself, beyond the fact that it is new and supposedly smoother) has made An Unexpected Journey a tad too bright and colorful for good taste, and some of the more dynamic scenes get blurred in the 3D. Speaking of dynamic scenes (see? I did it again! Smooth smooth smooth), although most action sequences - and particularly the final one - are incredibly good, a few go overboard and turn into vaudeville. A good example is the dwarves escape in the goblin mines, which turns from an epic fight-chase into an almost Dreamworks/Pixar-like scene where the villains as good as step on shovels and slam their heads in the handles. Those are moments where the dissonance between fantasy epic and child-friendly adventure, which I mentioned earlier, simply does not work.

But in the end, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first truly good fantasy movie since... well, since Return of the King. And even if it doesn't quite live up to the original trilogy, it still has a lot to offer - breathtaking visuals, amazing action, a fun - if underdeveloped - cast, and a great adventure story. Is it everything we hoped it would be? Hell no! But it is absolutely awesome all the same.


Jul 18, 2012

Movies: The Amazing Spider-Man

This particular restart of a comic movie franchise had me more than a little bit skeptical.On the one hand, all the names sound right - Andrew Garfield (of Social Network fame) and Emma Stone (Zombieland, Easy A) are both fairly awesome, and director Mark Webb's 500 Days of Summer is made of depressed puppies. On the other, Emma Stone did in no way feel like a Gwen Stacy to me (and not just for the lack of blondness), and let's face it - there is some marginal difference between kitten-drowning not-love stories and comic heroes. The consistently uninspiring trailers did nothing to make me excited about The Amazing Spider-Man, and it took me weeks to actually go see it after it came out.

Honestly, I was torn between this and Magic Mike!

Erm, anyway...

The movie is surprisingly solid. It doesn't so much wow you as it aaaws  you. Personally it made me want to adopt Andrew Garfield, but even people with no clear psychological disorders aren't likely to remain unmoved by his portrayal of the conflicted teenager Peter Parker. Everything that Tobby McGuire couldn't do for the character, Garfield does with ease - the awkward nerdiness, the honest integrity, the dorky puns - it's all there, in a perfectly executed package. With tights! Emma Stone still feels somewhat miscast as Gwen, and I maintain that she would have been a much more believable pick for Mary-Jane Watson, but I am assuming after the three embarrassing movies using that particular love interest, the writers wanted to go a different route. Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors is also a good choice, although the story is simplistic enough so that characters beyond Peter don't really see much of the spotlight.

The story itself is a surprising choice, at least to me. As a restart, The Amazing Spider-Man has nothing previous to lean on, but that didn't stop Marvel from just assuming people knew the origin of their Hulk and just go on and make a movie that skips it entirely. However, Webb's reimagining is a full blown origin story with no details spared. We have the entire spider bite, discovering of powers, uncle Ben tragedy (though somehow they skipped the line about the great power and the great responsibilities) and so on, and although the wrestling sequence has mercifully been dispensed with, a solid two thirds of the movie is taken up by Peter turning into Spider-Man. At this point such a decision was probably unnecessary, but it gives Andrew Garfield a chance to shine, and as I said earlier, he utilizes it to the fullest of his considerable potential.

The story is simple, and one could even say naive. It also feels a little rushed the entire time, and even if in retrospect nothing seems to have been shorter than necessary, I came out of the theater with the feeling of having been fast-forwarded through the movie. The script could definitely have used a little slower pacing. Other than that, it's a typical early days Spider-Man story, with all the camp and moralizing, and it feels as if Webb and the writers have embraced the absurdity of a man jumping across buildings in a blue-and-red leotard and have chosen to play with it instead of going with the trend and try and make him all "believable" and "realistic" (whatever that could possibly mean in comic book terms).

The special effects are cool as expected, and I have to praise the choreography involving webbing during the fight scenes, because someone has finally figured out that yes - when your character can swing around on elastic ropes that he shoots from his wrists, you should use that to for dynamic action purposes. The soundtrack is good, and slightly above the average "epic comic book movie unmemorable themeles music" level, though sadly James Horner's offering is far from the fantastic score of X-men: The Last Stand for example. The movie is very music-saturated - there is barely a scene without accompaniment, and it's rarely just ambient.

All in all, The Amazing Spider-Man is a great summer movie. It isn't jaw-dropping, but it is head and shoulders above anything previously done on the subject, and it benefits from a phenomenal (and adorable) main lead, great support cast, and a story that hits all the right spots without falling into total vaudeville. Thumbs up.


Jun 16, 2012

Game of Thrones Season 2

I didn't blog about Season 2 of Game of Thrones nearly as much as I did about Season 1. Some of the reasons are personal - shifts in priorities and interests - but mostly it has to do with my lack of real excitement about the second year of the show. It was unquestionably still great television, but I find myself not entirely thrilled with the direction it took.

One problem that Season 2 has is its source material. While Game of Thrones needed only marginal trimming and simplifying, A Clash of Kings is a much broader epic with a bigger cast of characters, more events and generally just not really a ten episode book. Entire storylines are cut or completely redone in order to fit the story into the small frame, and the simplifying has gone beyond anything in Season 1.

The other disappointment is the budget. This isn't really HBO's fault, considering how expensive the show already is, but the fact remains, that Game of Thrones Season 2 feels cheap. The production values are still great, the setting, costumes, special effects... everything is top notch. Except... the show does back flips in order to avoid having to show us the big guns. Daenerys' dragons are constantly caged, the cages covered with flaps. The direwolves are barely seen, and when they are, they almost never stand next to a human so that there would be no need to magnify them. Battles between armies are just as scarce as in Season 1, and honestly, by this point of the story the entire realm is at war. To show no battles is absurd, and makes the War of the Five Kings seem like a backyard brawl since you only ever see pompous pricks yelling at each other and talking about battles that happened "somewhere else".

And last but not least Season 2 suffers from the late True Blood syndrome in which every episode follows all storylines simultaneously, thus giving each no more than a few minutes. That means that no storyline progresses visibly in a single episode, and poorly hides the fact that many of them don't really progress throughout the entire season. An except to that rule is the fantastic Episode 9, written by Martin and focusing exclusively on the events at King's Landing.

However, the show is still amazingly well done in most every other aspect, and those are many and important. The acting is on a great level, with the fan favorites Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Conleth Hill (Lord Varis) and Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) once again stealing the spotlight whenever they appear. Other great performances are those of Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister, Stephen Dillane as Stanis Baratheon, Carice van Hauten as Melisandre, and Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth. Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon is brilliant in his horridness, but I am not sure this isn't just the kid looking like an evil sleaze by default. Even Lena Headey has made the role Cersei Lannister her own and gives us much more than in the previous season, though still nowhere near what the character should have been.

All in all, so far HBO delivers, but I am happy that Season 3 will only cover half of A Storm of Swords, because this series deserves better, and the first year of Game of Thrones showed us that it can deliver when there is enough room to work in. Meanwhile, Season 2 is great but flawed, and it definitely didn't get me nearly as happy as I hoped I would be.


Jun 9, 2012

Movies: Prometheus

I am not a movie critic. I am not even a connoisseur of movies. I will always appreciate a good camera or lighting, music and script, but I don't go out of my way to analyze them, and I don't know more than the top people who work in those fields. I say this without any disrespect for the people who live and breath movies. They understand them better and appreciate them more. Except for when they don't. And in those rare cases my position of a well educated fan gives me more.

I don't care about Ridley Scott. Not that I don't care for him, I have nothing but utmost respect for the guy. However, he has never made a single movie that I've actually loved, and therefore I don't hold him on any sort of pedestal. I had no special expectations for Prometheus, and so it was hard to me to share in the overall whine of how not-phenomenal the movie turned out to be.

A direct (and sadly contradictory) prequel of Alien, the movie follows the crew of the ship Prometheus on its mission to a world where a couple of archeologists believe the ancient creators of humankind are waiting for them, having left clues to the location of the planet in ancient civilizations. Things go wrong - as they tend to - and the movie ends more or less with the alien pretzel ship in the awkward sitting position that the crew of the Solako will find it some decades later (and 33 years ago).

Now, as to why Prometheus is awesome - first of all, the visuals are often breathtaking. The first fifteen minutes give you everything you could possibly desire from a space opera, and for the most part the movie is a celebration of massive ancient alienry at its best. Even sprawling Scandinavianesque vistas aside, there are scenes that are just gorgeous, like the archeologists' first entry in the separate life pod, with its opulence, the screen showing pretty earth nature and unobtrusive classical music.

Music is another strong side of the movie. Not because it is that amazing and memorable - though it is surprisingly good considering what I've grown used to lately - but because of the subtle ways it's often used, especially in the end credits. And finally, two beautiful performances by Michael Fasbender as the android David who - while not groundbreaking in his portrayal, does a superb job of being otherworldly, and slightly menacing in his servitude; and Charlize Theron who proves that nothing works better in the hot summer as an ice queen, even if her character is almost offensively pointless.

"Pointless" more or less describes half the people in Prometheus, and the movie suffers from a complete lack of credible characterization. You care about Fasbender and maybe Theron solely because of the quality of their performance and in no way because of anything compelling about their characters. The rest don't have even that. The cast's main heroine Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, here without a dragon tattoo) has literally one scene to show anything memorable (you'll know it when you see it, and it's pretty gross), and is in no way a competitor for the Tough Space Bitch throne that Sigourney Weaver proudly sits on.

The plot is a little bit dumb. Inconsistencies with the canon aside, there is entirely too much Creationism in the subtext for comfort, and the entire "faith" theme that Rapace's heroine represents is simply insulting on an intellectual level. Concepts like "most fundamental questions evah", "faith" and "seeking answers!" fly about like ricocheting bullets, never really hitting any relevant mark. On the plot level, the reasons for the mission and the alien revelations - once revealed - are simply laughable. Not "cringe in anger" laughable, but laughable enough that Prometheus loses all credibility as anything more than a well made summer blockbuster.

And that's where the problem really is for the most disappointed viewers. Alien gave us a universe where spaceships can be old rattling lackluster things operated by lower working class people who could care less about boldly going anywhere or finding anything other than their next paycheck. It told us that in space no one can hear you scream. Prometheus gives us broad pretty vistas and some unmemorable monstrosities while characters talk big. It is a solid summer movie, and well worth the price of admission. But it will leave no mark in cinema whatsoever.


Jun 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury Dies at Age 91

Ray Bradbury, author of The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes and many other beloved works, died this morning in Los Angeles. Details here.

May he rest in peace.

May 5, 2012

Movies: The Avengers

And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth's mightiest heroes found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the Avengers were born—to fight the foes no single super hero could withstand!

I admit without shame that I have never been a huge Avengers fan. Mutants are much more my thing when it comes to Marvel, but still, in modern comic books it is impossible to follow only one set of characters and not know anything about the rest. What my opening sentence meant to say was that my hype for this movie was based solely on the movies preceding it, as I have no strong feelings for any of the characters in it. Add to that the unflattering trailers and my strong conviction that a superhero ensemble movie is doomed to turn into a superpower showoff cameofest (coughX-men2cough), and the only hope I was seeing for The Avengers was in the form of its director and script writer Joss Whedon who is, as is well known, the best thing since Jesus.

I don't know how to follow up this paragraph with a smart and elegant transition to my reaction to the movie, so I'll just get on with it: The Avengers is by far the best Marvel Comics movie ever made, and easily among the best in the genre, with no real competition on the superhero front. All pitfalls of the ensemble movie have been avoided, everything good about ensemble stories has been utilized to its full potential by a master of the ensemble storytelling.

Coming on the shoulders of no less than five previous origin movies, The Avengers does not need to introduce its characters. What it does, is jump into the plot and use it to build them. The Tesseract - introduced in Captain America - has been stolen by Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. (Samuel Jackson) decides it's time to assemble a response team to avert an oncoming alien invasion. Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor of Asgard (Chris Hemsworth) and Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), as well as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) all come together under different circumstances, but with one goal - to stop a threat none of them can contain alone.

The premise is simple, but as any superhero team origin story, it is a great risk to tell it. The burden of fan expectation, the dynamic of characters with vastly different backgrounds and power levels... it is so easy for this to go wrong, that nothing short of brilliance would be enough. And Joss Whedon delivers in full. Having suckled geekdom from his mother's breast, the guy knows exactly what the fans have wanted to see, and how to deliver it without compromising the integrity of the story. For those who don't believe me, I have two words - S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier.

The Avengers goes at a brisk pace, and it's almost surprising when it finally clocks at 142 minutes (according to IMDB), but that time is spent just the way it should - in multiple locations, creating fully realized situations in each, propelling the plot forward while subtly building and solidifying a team I did not believe would ever translate on the big screen. All the actors - including ones I had doubts about - deliver flawlessly, and if Mark Ruffalo is not Edward Norton... well, that's not his fault, and he still does a great job. Depending on viewers' knowledge of previous films has allowed Whedon to not only ignore the need for a backstory, but also to build on the characters from where we've last seen them. Those are not people finding themselves. Those are people who've found themselves and now are finding something bigger.

The special effects are fantastic, even though in the final act they tend to stray a bit on the Transformers side, with a bit too many machines and buildings being destroyed. That said, the heroes show off their powers in the coolest possible way without it even for a second seeming unnecessary or put there just for the fans' sake. The cinematography is nothing spectacular or fancy, but even amidst the greatest chaos you always know exactly what is happening and who it's happening to. If the movie has anything vaguely reminiscent of a flaw, it would be the typically unmemorable soundtrack, but Marvel movies have never had great music anyway, and it's by no means bad.

The Avengers is exactly the triumphant masterpiece crown jewel that Marvel and the fans were hoping for. It is the movie that could have been, but so rarely is. A brilliant achievement, utilizing the full scope and all the strengths of the genre. And, if we are lucky - Joss Whedon's ticket to a well funded TV show that won't get cancelled!


May 4, 2012

Cover art for Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan's A Memory of Light - For Real This Time

The actual Michael Whelan cover (plus full art) for Sanderson and Jordan's A Memory of Light. Is it sad that I find it completely uninspiring?

Apr 25, 2012

Cover art for Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan's A Memory of Light

The cover for the final book in the Wheel of Time epic is finally revealed. And as much as I am not a fan of the paper WoT covers, I have to admit it's really appropriate for the final chapter of the series.

EDIT: Of course, it turned out to be a placeholder, with the actual cover yet to be released. I'm dumb and out of the loop apparently...

Mar 26, 2012

Movies: The Hunger Games

Seeing as how I just wrote a review for the novel, I will skip the small talk as well as the plot synopsis (the movie adaptation has the decency to follow the book pretty closely), and go straight to the question of whether The Hunger Games has made a good transition from the pages to the big screen.

I would say that considering the source material, it definitely has. The movie is a well-paced and compelling affair, following the book yet straying when the narrative flow demands it. I disagree with very few changes (the lack of the Avox storyline, the diminished presence of Rue and Haymitch and the missing origin of the wolflike creatures), and as a whole I think that director-screenwriter Gary Ross, with the help of the book's writer Suzanne Collins, has created the best possible script to both honor and not be constrained by the original.

That said, The Hunger Games falls short in weird ways, becoming a strange mirror of the novel's shortcomings (check out my review here). What dystopian traits the books tells about, the visual adaptation is trying to show. Shaky cam is used freely in the District 12 scenes and the action sequences to depict the almost documentary day-to-day misery of the people outside the Capitol, and the immediacy of the fight for survival. The contrast with the oppressing opulence of the Capitol, where everything is monumental and the people are colorful, pale and strangely lifeless in their joy, is striking. At the same time the director and the operator exhibit real talent in not a few occasions, with wonderful camera angles and artful scene dynamic, with the bread flashback as my particular favorite. Special effects are used to enhance rather than steal the scene, and are again combined with a distinct visual style that you can recognize among the pile of "same old" that modern Hollywood presents to us in recent years.

At the same time however, none of these elements really lasts long enough for it to stamp itself in your memory. It's all kinda there, but not really. The visuals of the Capitol are kinda marvelous and threatening, but not really. The action is kinda stressful and frantic, but not really. Even acting is kinda pretty good - especially in the cases of Haymitch (Woodie Harrelson) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) - but not really, and this last one is a huge shame, because both the characters and their corresponding actors could do so much more if the script would just utilize them.

Katniss herself is shockingly more likeable than the book version. Not that Jennifer Lawrence is that special - in fact I felt that she had slightly more curves than a child coming from a starving community should, and she was constantly giving me a vaguely unpleasant vibe - but since we are out of her head, there is no need to be witness to her embarrassing singlemindedness and her inability to see what's right in front of her face when it comes to Peeta.

With all this criticism, it might not be entirely clear that I actually enjoyed the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games the same way as I enjoyed the original. In fact, in some ways, it is even a little bit better. It has a flawed grace and as far as adaptations of hit YA novels go it's top notch. In fact, it's easily among the best ones of recent years. The movie has its own distinct visual style, and there is not a single dull moment in it. Most of its failings come from the source material and are unavoidable, and the ones it has invented on its own do not really detract from the enjoyment. It's a sad fact that - just like the book - it could simply have been much better. The potential is there, and even if the end result is good, it bugs me when I could tell it could have been amazing. Oh well, they still have two more movies to get it right. In the mean time, this one is definitely worth watching.


The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

I sort of let the Hunger Games craze pass me by. I saw the books - hard not to when every bookseller is trying to slam you in the face with them wherever you go - and I knew a movie was coming, but I couldn't really force myself to care enough about this year's YA rage. They tend to not be that good you see. However, the movie was drawing closer and so, about two weeks ago, I decided that I couldn't let this happen, and that I should read the novel before I went to see it.

The Hunger Games is the opening chapter of a trilogy, but it is entirely self-contained too. It is set in a dystopian future where the United States have collapsed under social and natural cataclysms, only to be replaced by a small totalitarian country called Panem. The Capitol rules Panem, and the twelve Districts serve the Capitol, supplying it through the sweat and blood of their citizens with all the luxuries its spoiled inhabitants desire. But once there were thirteen Districts. A few generations ago there was a revolt. The Districts rose against the tyranny of the government, only to be smashed into even more degrading submission. District 13 was completely destroyed, its citizens slaughtered, and now it's nothing but a toxic waste.

But the defeat brought not only further poverty and even more severe laws. It also gave the Districts the Hunger Games. Every year each District is to supply two "tributes" - a boy and a girl - who will go to the Capitol and on a specially designed arena will fight each other until a single survivor stands victorious. A constant reminder of the revolt's failure, a punishment and a way to keep the Districts at each other's throats, the Hunger Games are the Capitol's favorite reality show. Bets are placed on the tributes, sponsors are charmed into paying the exuberant prices for small gifts that could mean the difference between life and death on the battlefield.

The young huntress Katniss Everdeen, from the coal-mining District 12, volunteers as tribute when her little sister is drawn in the lottery. Together with the baker's son Peeta Malark she has to travel to the Capitol to prepare for the Games. Her life is on the line and she doesn't truly believe that she can win, but things get even more complicated when in the pre-game interviews Peeta announces he has been in love with her since early childhood. The only problem is - only one tribute can survive the Games.

The Hunger Games is a Young Adult novel, and that quickly becomes clear. It doesn't shy away from violence and uncomfortable themes, but pulls back when it comes to morality and the hard questions. The book dances around some real ideas, but it doesn't quite get there. In a very artless way, it falls short of the probing questions about society and the human condition - or the issues of present day - which children fighting to the death in a reality show should provoke. It almost asks important questions. Almost. And to be honest, I have a problem with that. I know the story is geared toward teens and early tweens, but the subject is simply not used effectively. Why pick a dystopian future if you are not going to delve in the dystopian themes and the naked mirror of contemporary life that they give you? There are ways to say relevant things and still not lose the young audience, but it takes skill that Suzanne Collins either does not possess, or has not bothered to use.

Not all is wrong here though. The Hunger Games is a very dynamic book, immensely enjoyable and a quick read. The writing style is not memorable in any way, and the setting leaves a lot to be desired (as shown in the previous paragraph), but both of them are effective and do their job just fine. Characterization is good, considering that the story is told from the first person narrative, and even though characters outside of Katniss' very egocentric world are not given too much attention, the reader is left with a clear impression of who they are. All, that is, except for Peeta. For whatever reason, Collins has decided to make her otherwise very intelligent and resourceful heroine a total dimwit when it comes to the boy that claims to be in love with her. She spends literally the entire book thinking he is probably playing a game, thinking that all she does is play along too, and that makes her woefully unlikable since the reader, on the other hand, is not mentally challenged.

Criticism aside, to say nothing good about the novel's setting would do it injustice. Panem is not developed too deeply (perhaps that will happen in the following novels), but what we see of it is interesting enough. The miserable poverty and day-to-day existence in the Districts, where even electricity for more than a few hours a day is a luxury, and hot water simply does not happen unless you boil it yourself; the opulence and decadent luxury of the Capitol, its citizens turned into almost carnival caricatures by their careless existence built on high technology and the sweat of slavery; the cold cynicism of the Games and the arena - a forest that obeys the Gamemakers' commands like a living chess board. Those are memorable pictures, and that only adds to the frustration of a more demanding reader, as The Hunger Games could have achieved so much more if it were intended for slightly more mature audience, or if Collins hadn't underestimated the one she targeted.

All in all, the book is an enjoyable read. It falls short of its potential, but does so gracefully, without wasting your time or boring you. I am not sorry I read it and I would definitely check out the sequels as well. But to be perfectly honest, I don't know if I would recommend it to anyone, unless you fall in the target audience or - like me - can't stand watching movies without having read the books they're based on.