America’s latest literary obsession is now America’s newest cinema craze. After reading all three books and fighting throngs of pre-teen fans to see the movie, be assured The Hunger Games is about more than just mindless violence.
The Hunger Games is set in post-apocalyptic America where the country “Panem” is divided into twelve districts. The Hunger Games were instituted as a form of punishment for a past rebellion—and as a way to keep the twelve districts in line. The Games themselves, a combination of American Idol meets Gladiator, are televised live as entertainment for the Capitol elite, and are required viewing for the districts. Every year, each district has an annual “reaping” where one male and one female between the ages of twelve and eighteen are selected by a lottery to compete in the games. Out of twenty-four kids that are sent to the Capitol, only one is allowed to live.
In the beginning of the movie, we meet sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, “Mystique” from X-Men: First Class) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Katniss, a capable hunter with bow and arrow, takes care of her family in District 12, the poorest of the districts; Gale is Katniss’ best friend. When the names are chosen in the reaping, Katniss’ twelve-year-old sister Prim is called to be the female tribute. Katniss interrupts the reaping and sacrificially volunteers to take her younger sister’s place. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is called to be the male tribute for District 12—and it turns out that Peeta had intervened in Katniss’ life before. He’d offered bread to Katniss and her family when they were on the verge of starving to death. In that moment he changed her life and her family’s future. Katniss is given minutes to say good-bye to her family and Gale before she’s taken away to a train for the Games.
The Capitol is absolutely gorgeous and the exact opposite of what both Peeta and Katniss are use to. There is an extreme abundance of food, wealth, and people, all indulgently dressed. The buildings are stunning and the accommodations extravagant. In this foreign setting, Katniss and Peeta have just a few days to prepare for what could be their last few days to live before they are tossed into an arena to fight for their lives—all televised for the masses.
The acting is by far the greatest strength of this film. Jennifer Lawrence does a terrific job as Katniss, conveying the first person narrative of the book with her eyes and body language. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne both nailed their roles. Each of the supporting actors did a magnificent job bringing the characters from the book to life.
One of the few downsides to an otherwise very well done cinematic adaption of a book was the choice of the fairly heavy use of handheld camera footage, obscuring the detail of the action. The style works to reinforce the visceral feel of the Games and to tone down the visual violence, but a distant angle or implied off-screen motion would’ve had the same effect with a less nauseating impact on the viewer.
The Hunger Games is rated PG-13 for violence and disturbing images. In one scene, a group of the “career” tributes (kids raised in special schools just to volunteer to enter the games) are enjoying hunting other tributes. In other scenes, some graphic violence may make a viewer a bit squeamish. Director Gary Ross’ quick and jerky style of camera work takes quite a bit away from what would’ve been some very gory images, saving the film from an R rating—perhaps a conscious choice in the editing room due to the scores of under-13 fans of the book.
The Hunger Games has definite positive aspects. The idea that life is precious and self-sacrifice are central themes for a number of characters. Peeta struggles with the games corrupting him. Katniss never kills anybody in cold blood and is clearly conflicted throughout the film. The core values of supporting, providing, and protecting your family are present throughout.
As expected, a number of things were left out from the book, but the film’s producers did a great job in choosing what stays and what goes. Some tweaks streamline the story moving into “Catching Fire,” the second of four movies to be made out of the Hunger Games Trilogy.
Overall, The Hunger Games is an action-packed movie for the 13+ crowd. I wouldn’t recommend this movie for ages younger than thirteen simply due to the amount of violence. If you’ve read the book, watch with an open mind and enjoy the movie. After seeing the movie with both readers and non-readers of the book, the consensus was the same—an incredible story told by a worthy cast and a must-see at the theater.
Listen to a song from The Hunger Games soundtrack: Taylor Swift Featuring The Civil Wars – Safe & Sound
To learn more about author April Kruger, visit Cross Shadow Productions