THE HUNGER GAMES
By Gary Murray
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Helmsworth
Written by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray
Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins
Directed by Gary Ross
Running time 142 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
The Hunger Games is based on a series of young adult novels that I had never heard of. From what I have been told, the stories are the new Harry Potter with the teen set. And like Harry Potter, Hollywood has decided to turn the books into movies.
The story of The Hunger Games takes place in the future after a civil war in North America. The country of Panem is divided into a Capitol and 12 different districts. Each year, a boy and girl are chosen by lottery from each district to be a part of The Hunger Games, a fight to the death. It is televised and watching is mandatory, used to keep the districts in line and the bloodlust in check.
Panem (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in District 12, one of the poorer areas (think Virginia). She has a younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) who is up for her first time in the lottery. When the names are chosen, Primrose is picked. Panem steps up and volunteers to take her place, something that has never been done in the 75 years of the games. The boy chosen is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). The two teens know each other and have a bit of a past.
The kids are taken to the Capitol, a magical looking place with beautiful people. The two kids are put into training and see that some of these competitors are going to be deadly. There are youngsters who have been practicing for the competition for years. The team behind District 12 let Panem know that she must charm the sponsors in order to get different gifts. She and Peeta have to go on television to charm the masses. During his interview Peeta lets the world know that he cares for Panem and the producers love the Romeo & Juliet aspect added to the show.
The film is of the games themselves and Panem using her hunting skills and other wiles in order not to die. She doesn’t want to kill like some of the other kids, she just wants to live. The boom of a cannon means that another has fallen. Since this is a TV show, we see the behind the scenes aspects ala The Truman Show but done more effectively.
Director Gary Ross does a brilliant job with The Hunger Games. Under a different director, this film could have been an orgy of violence and mayhem. Very wisely, Ross pulls us away from some of the more unsavory aspects of what the film could be and focuses his camera on more cunning aspects of playing the game. By not showing all the blood, he makes the vicious aspects of The Hunger Games just that more terrifying.
The look of The Hunger Games is very pre-Star Wars style sci-fi. The costumes and sets could have been in Barbarella or Logan’s Run, both films with the same kind of social bend. There is a very old school. retro cool look to this film that will appeal to the kids and bring back memories to their parents.
Jennifer Lawrence makes a stunning impression with her role as Katniss. The actress could be the best of her generation. The young lady of Winter’s Bone and X-Men: First Class is slowly becoming the Meryl Streep of the youth set. She can do both drama and action, morphing herself into any character the writer dreams up.
Josh Hutcherson is a very young actor with a long resume. He is probably best known for the Journey series of films. This role should secure his mantle as a teen heartthrob but he doesn’t do much more than look good. He is paled by Jennifer Lawrence in scene after scene, never on equal footing with her. It is more of a diligent effort than a solid role.
The film has a cornucopia of superb actors in small roles. Such stalwarts as Elizabeth Banks, Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson are all in the film. They bring a sense of importance to the proceedings, as if this film were a spectacle flick. Every member of this cast gets a moment here and there to bring the A-game, with Tucci and Harrelson delivering over the top performances.
The film lives and revels in a fascist world where slogans overcome individuals. Honor, courage and sacrifice are pushed but only to a point. It is a future dystopia where the individual is only treasured as long as it helps the collective and order. This is a film that both elements of the political extremes will embrace, never realizing that their extremist views are of a similar path.
As a piece of cinema, The Hunger Games has the kind of appeal that John Carter lacked. The kids will flock to this film and it should spawn a number of franchise movies, video games, toys, etc. It is an overall enjoyable experience that will bring a legion of movie fans to the books.