The Hunger Games – In Theatres Now
by Diane Ligman
The Hunger Games, based on the trilogy written by Suzanne Collins, and directed by Gary Ross, is about a dystopian future, where the United States has crumbed and from the ashes has risen Panem, a country of 12 districts ruled by the fabulously wealthy Capitol. Each district, stunningly poor and lacking in many of the advancements that the Capitol has, are responsible for making a specific product, such as farming for District 11 and coal mining in District 12. After the horrific war that ended the United States and the uprising of District 13, a disgusting annual event was created, the Hunger Games. In each, each District must send one teenage boy and one teenage girl, chosen at random, to participate in a tournament that where they must kill each other while surviving the elements and booby traps, until there is only one left standing. All the while, it is televised and shown all across the nation. Katniss, played by Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, X-Men: First Class), volunteers for District 12 when her baby sister, Prim, is randomly chosen. Her companion from District 12 in the horrific event is Peeta, is played by Josh Hutcherson (The Kids are Alright), who is the son of the baker in Katniss’s town. Together with their handler, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), their mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrison) and their stylist, Cinna, (Lenny Kravitz), they must figure out a way to truly turn the odds forever in their favor.
Anyone who saw Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone knows she can act. That said, it takes true talent to walk into a property like this and not just go over the top. Katniss is a very complex character for a young adult book. She is a stunningly strong girl who had to grow up fast in order to take care of her family. She can hold her own with any man in her life and in turn, earn not just their love, but respect. She is lovingly devoted to those who are close to her, and will become their champion. She is naïve, completely out of her element, brought into a world she never wanted to be in in the first place. She is also going to become a revolutionary role model, and learn to fight injustice. This is very complicated in comparison to other young adult franchises as well. Harry Potter was always very flat, and his rebelling many times was for the sake of it, here it is for survival. And Katniss is pretty much the exact opposite of Bella from Twilight in every possible way. It is impressive the way she took on this role, because she is truly a role model of a character and because of that, she is magical to watch.
Josh Hutcherson does well playing the odd combination of weakness and being a fighter. He is willing to give up his own life so easily, but will fight hard to protect Katniss. He portrays how life, and primarily his mother, has pretty much driven out any fight in him. You also see how being around Katniss brings a level of strength he didn’t know he had. This is a nice compliment to Katniss who took has taken adversity on head on in her life. He has done a well stepping into those shoes.
Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch beautifully. A previous victor of the Hunger Games, he manages to show what that victory did to him. He also shows how he has not become sucked in by the win to fully support the games like Elizabeth Banks character Effie, who has drunk the Kool-Aid. Both actors have fun but do help to ground the reality of this world. Lenny Kravitz though gives an authenticity to the horror by playing his role with such compassion.
The cinematography is wonderful. By keeping so centered on Katniss, coupled with the quick cuts, it allows the violence to be put in perspective. It is a fine line to walk, showing children kill each other, but they truly pulled it off. It especially rings correct against the audacious costume design of the Capitol inhabitants. Having that juxtaposition helps to show the complete moral decay that would have to happen to have the Hunger Games in the first place.
Let’s address the violence or really all the press harping about the violence. Would I say this is appropriate for a 5 year old, no. But honestly I think there are plenty of 9 and 10 years who could handle The Hunger Games. In fact, I would say the movie is easier to swallow than the books, which are brutally violent. Frankly most parents wouldn’t blink twice taking a child that age to Mission Impossible 4 where they blew up the Kremlin, Titanic which is based on a real event, or even Wrath of the Titans which will have a much higher body count. The issue is because the people dying in The Hunger Games are children. Too many times people want to pretend that children can’t handle this sort of element, which I don’t quite follow. Ask any 5 year old who their heroes are and you will most likely get superheroes in the mix and they are all adults. The idea that children can’t relate to the violence when it happens to adults but can when it is children in ludicrous. This movie actually has a true point to make by using violence, how many times can you say that about a movie?
Gale is barely in the movie. Played by Liam Hemsworth, Thor Chris Hemsworth’s younger brother, he does just fine. The problem is he is barely touched. Now that is somewhat true in the book as well, but it is driven home that he is already on the road to wanting to rebel against the Capitol. This is barely shown, which is a shame.
From the outside The Hunger Games is portrayed as an action movie, but it really isn’t. Yes, there is action, but that is not the primary focus of this book, it is the journey of a girl into a woman, from a girl who was forced to shoulder responsibility to a role model. Couple this with a very dense book set in a world completely different from our own and you end up with a film where there is a lot of back story and world building. They did a good job of “showing not telling”, but it did cause certain scenes to be in there so it can be referenced later. This caused the Capitol scenes before the games to drag a bit. It also can cause for a person who has not read the books to be a bit lost or to feel the marketing didn’t portray this movie correctly.
I think Gary Ross did a wonderful job with The Hunger Games. It is a dense, imagery filled novel series that is hard to put on film without looking campy, and he pulled it off. I think this will definitely get a lot of adults to read the series, which is also another success. The following books are not as good as the first, but with this cast and the director, I have a feeling some people might say that the sequel films are better than the books.