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March 28, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

Posted by on Mar 28, 2012

When you spend half a year screaming to the masses “THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST THING YOU HAVE EVER SEEN”, it is very difficult to actually make it the best thing people have ever seen, or even one of the better things people have seen this month.  Against these odds, and my ever-existent desire to tell people that they were wrong, Lions Gate’s The Hunger Games really was excellent.

[SPOILER ALERT – Yes, there are spoilers here. However, since this film grossed $155 million in its first weekend, there is a 99% chance that you have already seen it, so please feel free to read on. If you are the 1%, stop reading now and be aware that as of this moment, all your monies are belong to us. Thanks for playing.]

The story begins with the Reaping in District 12 – one of 12 subjugated districts of the futuristic nation of Panem.  Katniss Everdeen and her younger sister Prim are both eligible to be elected as tributes in this grim lottery – to participate in the annual event known as The Hunger Games.  Once 2 tributes from each district, male and female between the ages of 12 and 18, are selected, the 24 children will fight to the death in a specially designed arena, and the entirety of Panem is forced to watch this nationally televised event.  This brutal event exists as a reminder of a past rebellion, and to discourage any further attempts to overthrow the Capitol.  When Prim’s name is selected, Katniss volunteers as tribute in an emotionally heart-wrenching scene, and is joined by Peeta Melark, the baker’s son (played by Josh Hutcherson).  Together they travel to the Capitol, where they stay in luxurious accommodations while training for their inevitable entry into the arena.

Jennifer Lawrence is straight up awesome

So first of all: Jennifer Lawrence.  The supporting actress from X-Men: First Class and the star of the lesser known ‘Winter’s Bone,’ has proven that she is nothing short of the real deal.  She delivered a flawless performance.  Her Katniss remained wholeheartedly true to the way she was depicted in Collins’ novel.  Her beauty and ruggedness presents a nearly impenetrable exterior that hides deep loyalty, naivety, and downright goodness.  From the moment she volunteered to take Prim’s place, to that final act of defiance with the Nightlock berries, Katniss had the movie-going audience rooting for her harder than the Capitol audience cheered when the tributes first emerged in their chariots.

Book readers always nervously tense up whenever a paperback favorite is converted to the screen.  “How much will be changed? That’s NOT what he was supposed to look like! Why oh why wouldn’t they include the Scourging of the Shire??”  No matter what, it won’t be the same as the book, and most likely will not be quite as good (unless the book was crap to begin with). So, after taking the requisite grain of salt, I was pleased to see how closely it resembled the novel.  District 12 looked just as bleak as it should have, and was appropriately contrasted with the over-the-top extravagance that was the capitol.  They did a great job showing the socio-economic contrast when Katniss and Peeta were swept into luxury alongside the clueless Effie (perfectly depicted by Elizabeth Banks).  When you see the young, innocent faces of the child tributes, and you see the masses cheer enthusiastically for their deaths, there is no doubt how effed up Panem is.  Collins has created a brutal dystopia, and none of its morally-devoid nature was missed in the translation to the silver screen.

The one glaring issue I had with the film was the character of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson).  He only appeared to be the drunken A-hole I remembered for his first five minutes on screen, and then he was really likable. We didn’t get to see his own struggle with the games, the tributes, his booze, and finally admitting that he liked and cared about Katniss and Peeta.  Haymitch is supposed to be a jerk.  He was way too nice too soon. There. I had to have SOMETHING negative to say.

Team Peeta? Team Gale? Nope, Katniss is on 'Team Let's-win-the-hunger-games-so-I-don't-die.'

A big worry that many fans have voiced about the film was just how much it would pander to a specific audience group – namely, teenage girls.  Internet chatter asked these fans to declare loyalty to Team Peeta or Team Gale – making the rest of us pray even harder that the film(s) did not become the next twilight saga.  It’s true, a love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale exists in the books, and it did need to be acknowledged in the film. However, the book (rightly) sidelined this triangle to the more pressing struggle – surviving the Hunger Games.  I was pleased to see that the movie did the same.  Peeta was just as groveling and annoying as he was in the book, and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) was just as remote and removed.  A well placed look from Gale when he watched the on-screen tenderness between Katniss and Peeta elicited chuckles from the audience, but never once did it take away from or even come close to overshadowing the struggle to survive.

Our other worry here at NNAR had about The Hunger Games was the PG13 rating. Of course, it is clear that giving this movie a rating of R would be suicidal to sales, not to mention the hate produced by the horde of angry teens who could not be admitted to see the movie without their parents (yeah, I don’t miss those high school days). But this is a movie about children killing children. That’s the point, and you can’t duck the violence. How would a PG-13 rating change the intense violence that needed to occur? Fortunately, it didn’t  We see the dead female career all bloated and disgusting looking after her encounter with the tracker jackers. We saw the mutts go to town on Cato, we saw Rue take a spear in the gut, and we saw a poor young boy’s neck snapped.  Yes, there wasn’t much gratuitous gore and violence, but there was enough to portray how brutal the games actually were, and we saw kids get murdered. Could they have done more? Of course.  Did it work as is? Yes.

Lion’s Gate is sitting pretty on the biggest blockbuster of the year, their biggest feature ever, and the third largest grossing film (after the 1st weekend) of all time.  And it is well deserved. Bravo.