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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

What She said:

She

Sooooo, where do I even begin?  Let me just start by saying that I was a total giddy teenager when it came to this movie.  I read the book in 8 hours one night over the Thanksgiving holiday, and immediately was hooked.  Suzanne Collins did a wonderful job of creating an eerie world where teenagers fight to the death for a chance at survival, not just for them but for their community. 

Ok, so in case you’re the one person in the world who hasn’t heard of The Hunger Games, it’s a teen fiction book, part of a series, actually, about a post-apocalyptic world where the U.S. is divided up into twelve strictly governed Districts.  They sort of have the feel of World War II containment camps, with barbed wire and electric fencing keeping the inhabitants in.  Food is scarce in the Districts, and so once a year, each section sends a boy and a girl to compete in the Hunger Games.  They’re competing for riches and a year of food for their District.  Unfortunately, there is only one victor, and to win you must kill everyone else, so 23 must die for one to win.  And, “May the odds be ever in your favor.”  That’s sort of their catch line.

So, Katniss Everdeen lives in the 12th District.  It’s a coal mining district.  Her younger sister is selected for the games, but she volunteers because she cannot stand to see her sister die and she knows the girl doesn’t stand a chance.  Katniss is swept up into the world of the games, where contestants are fawned over and dolled up before being sent out into the wilderness to kill one another.  Her male counterpart from District 12, Peeta, and her must face their destinies and fight for survival, even if that means killing each other.

It’s a great story, and that’s what the movie really shows.  It’s literally a visual representation of the book, to the best of its ability.  Visually, the film incorporates a lot of shaky camera work, in addition to the more traditional, as the viewer is taken in to the world of the Games.  The film is long, nearly 2 ½ hours, and yet it seems that movie makers struggled to get the entire book’s content on screen.  As such, there are elements that were glossed over.  If you read the book, you’ll be able to piece in the necessary assumptions.  I can see complaints coming in, however, from those who are not acquainted with the written work.  There are characters that I wanted to know more about, and relationships that I wanted to unfold a bit more than was allowed. 

The movie has very few changes from the book, but, taken at face value the film is very solid.  You’ll be able to watch everything unfold in what is an enthralling way.  Honestly, I think I could have sat for another hour if need be.  The 2 ½ flew by, even late at night when I saw the movie.  There’s good action for sure, and a nice amount of suspense.

I think the best thing about The Hunger Games is the spot on casting choices.  Jennifer Lawrence, fresh off of a very similar character in Winter’s Bone embodies Katniss—strong, courageous, and smart.  Other solid performances were Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, and Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman.  A special shout-out to Harrelson, who could have gone too goofy with the Haymitch character, but instead portrayed him accurately with a darkness that conveys his troubled spirit.  I’ve heard a couple of people complain about Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, saying he’s too short to play the character.  I’m not sure I agree.  Ideally, it’d be nice for him to be at least as tall as Katniss, but I think that Hutcherson was really wonderful in the role.  Let’s just ignore the fact that he’s tiny. 

The Hunger Games is violent and filled with raw emotion.  The book has a lot of subtleties that are lost in the film version; however the movie is still solid entertainment.  Like the books, I don’t think it’s necessarily acceptable for some young teenagers.  I’d say 12 and under, definitely not, and 13-14, maybe, but it depends on the child’s maturity level.  At the end of the day, it is teenagers killing teenagers, but there are larger themes at play that give the film true meaning and value.

Thumbs up.

 

What he said:

He

If you are hoping for a detailed analysis of the book vs. the movie, you won’t get one here. That’s not really my thing. I always say, “If you want the book, read the book.” Movies are their own thing and should be viewed as such. The source material serves as the groundwork, but I never go into a movie expecting an exact replica of the book. I think that’s the wrong mindset to take when watching a movie inspired by a book. The only thing I’ll say regarding this issue is that the movie stays very true to the book. There was very little that was changed or left out. So if that kind of thing does concern you, you don’t have a lot to worry about.

For those of you who do not know, The Hunger Games is about a post-apocalyptic future in which the North America is now known as Panem. It is divided into 12 districts. There was once a 13th district, but it was destroyed as a result of their rebellion against the Capitol. As a constant reminder that the Capitol is in charge, they force the remaining districts to participate The Hunger Games; their version of the ancient Roman games. The difference is that that participants in The Hunger Games are pretty much children. Each year, two participants between the ages of 12-18 are chosen to represent each district. They are known as tributes. They are taken to the Capitol, paraded around like a bunch of pets, trained, and released in a predetermined location where they fight to the death.

The Hunger Games follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) from District 12. She lives with her mother and sister Prim. Katniss takes care of the family. She sneaks out into the unrestricted zone with her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) to hunt for food. The game she hunts is used to feed her family and trade for other goods. It also serves as a release from her situation at home. Aside from providing food for the family, Katniss pretty much calls the shots at home. When her father died in a mining accident, her mother went into a catatonic state. This forced her to become the primary caretaker for her Prim. Her mother has since recuperated, but Katniss does not have any faith in her; and as a result carries most of the weight.

Early in the movie, the reaping takes place. The reaping is an event in which people are chosen to represent their district in that year’s Hunger Games. It is a very stressful time, because nobody wants to be chosen. However, attendance is mandatory and everyone’s (between the ages of 12-18) name is in there at least once. It can be in there many more times too depending on the circumstances. The Capitol will give your family food and other supplies if you agree to put your name in there multiple times. Katniss is playing it cool for her sister’s sake, but is actually quite concerned about herself and Gale. Being that they are a little older, their name is in there a few dozen times each. Prim’s name is only in there once. Ironically though, Prim’s name is the one called out. Everyone is in shock, as is the case when a younger participant is chosen. Playing the role of protector once again, Katniss steps forward and volunteers to take her sister’s place in the games. There has not been a volunteer for years, so her actions immediately bring the spotlight to her. It’s not against the rules to volunteer, it’s just that nobody really ever does it. Not only is she the talk of the town, but the Capitol immediately plays up this angle big time. In case I haven’t mentioned, the whole reaping process and games are something of a reality show. From the second the tributes are chosen right on through the ending ceremonies, the whole thing is filmed.

Also chosen from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Katniss knows who Peeta is, but only because of a brief encounter from when they were younger. Other than that, they are not very well acquainted with one another.

The two of them are given just a few minutes to say goodbye to their familes and are taken aboard a train to the Capitol. On the train is their mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Capitol escort Effie Trinkett (Elizabeth banks). Haymitch is a drunk, but also the only winner to ever come out of District 12. Effie is an extremely bizarre individual. She dresses in some combination of offensively colorful and futuristic clothing and make up, but also sports wigs like something out of colonial times. She sort of serves as your introduction into how most citizens of the Capitol look and acts. They are rich aristocrats who have lost touch with reality. They live a life of luxury, indulgence, and find The Hunger Games to be quite amusing (despite the fact that people actually are killing one another). Haymitch is not one of them. He lived in District 12 and still does, but is ushered out to the Capitol each year as a mentor for each year’s tributes (which is what they call the participants from each district). Despite that though, he’s a difficult personality to cope with.

Once they arrive at the Capitol, they see how surreal the whole experience truly is. They are showered with food and luxury like they have never seen. They are groomed and prepped to be shown to the public. Most of the people doing this are as disillusioned to reality as Effie is, but not Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Though he never comes out and says it, Cinna seems to disagree with the whole premise of the games. He can’t really do anything about it, but he does whatever he can to get Katniss good publicity and win her plenty of sponsors. Throughout the Hunger Games, citizens of the Capitol will pay money to drop tributes supplies. It can be food, water, medicine, or even weapons. So making a good impression before the games is actually quite important. Cinna is also the only friend she has in the Capitol.

After all the showy stuff, they trained in various survival and combat skills, then put to the test. This is the last attempt to showcase their stuff and win sponsors. Here, Katniss shows her skills as a hunter. She’s quite the talented archer, so she hopes people notice that. Also during this process, she is introduced to the rest of the tributes from the other 11 districts.

Most of them are like her. They’re just scared kids who were put into a horrible situation that they can do nothing about. However, those from Districts 1 and 2 are what they call “career tributes”. These two districts train their children in combat from birth. They are often the biggest, strongest, and most sadistic of all the tributes. Tributes from these two districts tend to win the Hunger Games just about every year. One of them – a large and imposing young fella named Cato – quickly develops a hatred for Katniss. During the training process, each of the tributes is given a score. It helps determine the odds for potential winners and thus gives citizens of the Capitol a better idea of who they’d like to sponsor. Katniss gets the highest score and this enrages Cato. So once the games begin, he has his eye out for her.

Before she knows it, the nightmare begins. Besides the fear of dying at the hands of one of the other tributes, there’s a lot of paranoia going on inside the arena. It’s not uncommon for tributes to team up with one another, but really how much trust can there be when only one of you is allowed to live? She doesn’t know if she can trust Peeta. She also doesn’t know if she can actually kill anyone, especially when she meets a young tribute from District 11 named Rue (Amandla Stenberg). Oh yeah, and there is the little fact that the Capitol has the arena booby trapped. They can manipulate the weather or hurl various instruments of death at you.

This is a tense and entertaining science fiction thriller. Fan of the book or not, if this is your type of thing, you should like it. I know I did.

It is loaded with a lot of quality performances.

Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss Everdeen. She was perfectly casted as this young, but capable heroine. As I read the book, Katniss quickly became one of more favorite heroes in modern fiction. She’s tough, proud girl, who puts on a strong face for her family and friends, but is as human as anyone else. At times, she can be seen as cold, but I prefer to think of her as practical and realistic. She does the best she can in the horrible world she lives in. Katniss may be young, but give her a few years and she’ll be as bad-ass as Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor. Having seen Lawrence in this, Winter’s Bone (review here), and X-Men: First Class (review here), I can say I have very quickly become impressed with this young actress. She’s plays characters with burdened lives very well.  I completely believe what I see from her on-screen.

Josh Hutcherson also does an admirable job as her District 11 counterpart, Peeta Mellark. Peeta is kind of Robin to Katniss’ Batman and he did a good job portraying that dynamic. He also did well with showing the complicated relationship between the two.

This movie is absolutely loaded with several good supporting roles. Woody Harrelson seemed to be a great choice for Haymitch when he was announced and that decided proved to be a good one. He brought some real life to this troubled character. I cannot say enough good things about Elizabeth Banks and Lenny Kravitz. Neither has a particularly large role, but like Lawrence, I thought they were their characters. Banks was hilarious as the bizarre, yet amusing Effie Trinkett. Lenny Kravitz has barely been in any movies, but you’d never know it by this. He brings a lot of heart to his performance. Stanley Tucci is almost always good. His Caesar Flickerman was hilarious and frightening. Even when I see him in something I don’t like (see my review of The Lovely Bones here), he’s usually fantastic. The guy has been around forever, but really built quite the rep the last several years. Donald Sutherland was totally on point as the President Snow. It was a quiet, but chilling performance. I look forward to more of it in the sequels. Wes Bentley was super creepy as the Gamemaker (designer of this sick and twisted “game”).

I haven’t even touched on the other tributes. Amandla Stenberg was quite endearing as the quiet, shy, and evasive tribute Rue. She’s just a kid and you feel bad about the fact she’s even in the games. Though their relationship wasn’t given as much detail on-screen as in the book, I definitely felt it. The actors and actresses playing the career tributes from Districts 1 and 2 were also quite good. These kids are basically trained killers. They relish the opportunity to kill. They were all good, but the Clove (Isabelle Fuhrman) scared the crap out of me. The girl looks like she’s about 14 and 90lbs, but she’s totally psychotic. She reminds of the kind of kid whose idea of fun is torturing small animals.

I also have to throw in how good I felt they portrayed this futuristic society that borders is an insane mix of "civil" and extremely violent. You've got these extremely wealthy, spoiled people, whose main form of entertainment is watching people die. But if you were to ask them, there is nothing wrong with it at all. It's like they're watching a baseball game or something.

The only complaint I have is that some of the special effects were rather "meh". Most of them were good, but there was a few times I found myself thinking, "Well that looks pretty bad". Other than that, I really liked it.

Sorry for the long review, but this is a tremendously popular book series and is going to be just as popular on the big screen; so I felt I had to do it justice. I’m really curious to see where the next two installments go, because I think this has potential to be a memorable series.  

Rating: Thumbs up.

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