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The Hunger Games | Movie Review
Editor's note: This review contains some spoilers.
Unlike the latest hash of movies I've gone to see, "Hunger Games" was one of the few I actually felt excited about as I took my seat in the theater.
Although I have yet to read a single book in the trilogy, judging strictly by the story and the conversations I've had with people, it sounded like something worth seeing.
Happily, my instincts served me well.
Based on the 2008 novel by Susanne Collins, Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian country in North America after war and natural disasters have ravaged the continent.
Replacing America is Panem, which is broken into 12 districts. Every year, the country holds an event called "The Hunger Games," in which a boy and girl, ages 12-18, is selected from every district by raffle to go to the capital, where they fight to the death. Only one comes out alive.
The Hunger Games are held to "celebrate" the government's successful suppression of a rebellion by the poverty-stricken districts.
The movie revolves around 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) who lives in District 12 and has learned to hunt with a bow and arrow to feed her family, including her younger sister Primrose "Prim" (Willow Shields).
During the drawing of the tributes for that year's Hunger Games, Prim is selected. To prevent her from going to her certain death, Katniss volunteers to take her place.
Along with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the male tribute from District 12, they are taken to the capital city. There, they are lavished with food, clothes and other luxuries as they prepare for the Hunger Games.
Essentially, the Hunger Games themselves have all the glamor of the Miss America pageant, the cliche interviews of late-night talk shows, the drama of American Idol and the gruesome violence of the Roman-era gladiatorial games.
You've got to hand it to director Gary Ross. Even though there are several issues with the story and plot, he was able to take a novel with a highly disturbing plot - where children kill each other in a reality TV-style fashion - and do it as tastefully as possible.
Frankly, Hollywood would be wise to use Hunger Games as an example of how they can, in fact, make a film that deals with mature themes without having to show all of the gratuitous, explicit details associated with it.
While this was probably done for financial reasons - to draw in the widest range of demographics - rather than artistic, the movie lets the audience use their imagination when it comes to the actual Hunger Games, because the mere concept of children killing each other is unsettling enough.
Since I have yet to read the novel, I can't comment on how well it was adapted to the screen, but nevertheless I must tip my (nonexistent) hat to Lawrence, as well as the screenwriters (including the author, Collins) for creating a strong female character who doesn't feel like she has to also act like a man.
While not particularly charming or friendly, Lawrence's Katniss is easy to empathize with, and it is refreshing to see a female protagonist who is driven by more mature, adult motives than adolescent romance, though there is some of that. Her humanity amid the senseless death around her is what really gets the audience behind her.
I was inclined to dislike Hutcherson's Peeta, Katniss's eventual romantic interest, because he seemed like a whiny push-over, and even though I eventually came around to appreciating his ingenuity, he's still the film's proverbial damsal in distress.
Woody Harrelson's Haymitch Abernathy, District 12's only Hunger Games winner and alcoholic, was a treat to watch. He is able to go from highly cynical to optimistic or idealistic without coming off as a stock character or bi-polar.
There were several standout scenes that I was impressed with, but one of the best was when Katniss is waiting to be taken up to the arena for the Hunger Games. The total silence perfectly captures the intense restlessness and anxiety one would have moments before they are forced to fight for their life.
As far as the film's messages go, most of them hit their respective bullseye.
The police/soldier uniforms looked rather goofy instead of intimidating, which made it hard to understand how anyone takes them seriously, until you remember how goofy the TSA look. The outlandish, over-the-top interviews the tributes have with a ridiculous host could easily pass off as most of the shows I've seen on TV now.
What saddened me the most was that none of it was "shocking" in the sense that I thought to myself, "That could never happen here!" or "Glad we don't have to worry about that!"
The bad fashion trends, the wanton violence, a televised death match between children that's watched and enjoyed by millions - it's more inevitable than anything else.
Unfortunately, there were several flaws in the story logic that I feel obligated to point out. Either the children were very conditioned for the psychological strains of the Hunger Games, or Katniss and Peeta were far too comfortable at the thought that they may have to kill each other. Nor are they taught during their training how to find it within themselves to kill.
The night before the Games, Katniss and Peeta have a conversation, but the one question they avoid is whether or not they are willing to kill the other children (or if they are just praying that other tributes do most of the killing for them).
Considering that some of the tributes are 12-year-old girls, I think it's a reasonable question they would have to ask themselves. Or why they have to participate in the Hunger Games at all.
In fact, a lot of the tributes act as though they are in the film "Gladiator," and that they are on an assigned team. In that case, all they would have to do is survive by working together.
But the whole point of the Hunger Games is only one of them comes out alive.
While this adds a nice source of tension, it also causes the film to stumble when it comes to the characters' interactions.
For example, during the actual Hunger Games, an alliance is formed between several of the children, most of whom are from the same districts, as they seek out others to kill.
I really hate to point this out, but they seemed way too friendly towards each other and trusting; keep in mind that they will, at some point, have to kill each other.
As a person who has played games like Diplomacy, where everything revolves around trust, I can state with some credibility that if my best friend couldn't go two rounds without double-crossing me on such a trivial matter, complete strangers in such a situation would not be able to go for very long without trying to kill one another. They certainly wouldn't be able to sleep with both eyes closed.
I suppose that is the biggest problem with the film. At no point did I believe for a moment that either Katniss or Peeta would be killed because the film doesn't have the fatalistic atmosphere necessary for it to make sense or feel appropriate.
Still, I give the film somewhat of a pass on those problems, including some rather cheesy romantic dialogue, because of the audience it's geared towards, and none of it really robbed me of any enjoyment. I would be more than willing to see it again.
As far as age appropriateness is concerned, I recommend parents with children under 13 either see the film first or be prepared to have a discussion about the film's content afterwards.