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The Hunger Games totally lives up to the hype

The Hunger Games - Theater Review
Release Date: 03/23/2012 - MPAA Rating: PG-13
Clacker Rating: 5 Clacks

A great script and strong performances ensures that 'The Hunger Games' will please both fans of the book series and complete newbies.

Regardless of what any film critic writes about The Hunger Games, this film is going to be a massive success. There’s a large enough built-in audience of rabid fans of the best-selling trilogy by Suzanne Collins, that the celebratory Mai-tais have probably already started flowing in studio offices across Hollywood.

We’ve seen this kind of fan devotion before, of course; most recently with the Twilight franchise. In fact, The Hunger Games has been called “The Next Twilight” on more than one occasion in recent months — a comparison that does both the books and the film a great disservice.

There are, of course, some clear parallels between the two: both series were marketed to young adults and feature a teenage female lead. However, the similarities blissfully end there. As fans of the novels are already aware, Katniss Everdeen is the polar opposite of Bella Swan: she’s strong, independent, focused, and while she has several male characters to whom she’s close, she doesn’t rely on any of them, despite her young age. It are these differences, along with Jennifer Lawrence‘s captivating portrayal of the heroine that are going to please both fans of the series and newbies alike.

From the very beginning of the film, it is clear that The Hunger Games is going to accomplish something that very few adaptations of wildly-popular novels do: satisfy both hardcore fans and have crossover appeal. The film honors the book without being too insidery, ensuring that fans can bring along their not-yet-converted friends, and everyone will still have a great time.

For those who haven’t read the series, let me put your mind at ease: The Hunger Games is not a film solely for teenage girls. While the heroine, Katniss, is a sixteen-year-old girl, the film itself is a dark look at a dystopian world set in the not-too-distant future.

The countries that made up North America have been replaced by Panem, which is comprised of 12 districts. These districts are ruled with an iron fist by The Capitol, a bright, futuristic land of gaudy excess and brutality. As a way of exerting their power and entertaining their bloated and idle residents, the Capitol holds The Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games themselves are a yearly event in which one male and one female child aged 12-18 from each of the twelve districts are chosen to compete in a fight-to-the-death battle that is televised across Panem. The games go on for days or weeks — however long it takes for one child to become the last person standing. He or she, along with their family, is then taken care of financially for the rest of their lives.

The film starts with The Reaping, the annual event in which the names of the unlucky 24 are chosen. Despite her young age, Katniss has been the head of her household since her father’s death in a mining accident. She’s quick with a bow and uses these skills to put food on the table and take care of her young sister and still-grieving mother. Katniss ends up in the Games when she volunteers after her sister’s name is called.

The plot zips along at a brisk pace after this, focusing on both Katniss’s training and that of her District 12 companion, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), at the hands of their drunken mentor and previous Hunger Games victor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). This is, of course, followed by the games themselves.

It’s perfectly clear (if not a little over-done at times), that this film is making a larger point about American culture, particularly our country’s obsession with reality television. As manufacturing jobs go overseas, the number of farms decline and our national skill-set becomes more focused on intangibles than manual labor and production, our thirst for constant and varied entertainment increases. When we are no longer focused on finding food for our own survival, we watch out-of-work actors and models do it on Survivor. We watch a group of kids fight each other for record contracts or magazine covers. Soap operas are being canceled in favor of real people performing and fighting for our collective amusement. Beyond painting a picture of a post-apocalyptic society, the film seems to ask us, “what is The Hunger Games beyond a pitch at FOX 20 years from now?”

During the training and the games, there’s an equal amount of emphasis placed on both the tangible and intangible skills they need to survive. Yes, Katniss needs to be good with a bow and arrow and Peeta needs to be able to camoflauge himself in the woods, but she also needs to be likeable enough to gain sponsors, and he needs to position himself as a love-sick underdog that the audience wants to root for. The life and death aspect of the games is real, but like any good reality show, the storyline is scripted well ahead of time.

The relatable message, action-filled plot and brilliant performances are enough to keep any Hunger Games novice entertained, and fans of the novel are going to walk away happy as well. Author Suzanne Collins had a hand in writing the screenplay, and she and her co-writers managed to stay faithful to the story without getting bogged down in the details. The only major plot change involves the origin of the infamous Mockingjay pin that Katniss wears during the games, but it’s easy to see why that storyline was cut for time. Other storylines had to be condensed, but the spirit of the story remains intact.

There are many ways in which Hollywood could have gotten this adaptation wrong, but the throngs of fans who are already buying advance tickets will probably agree that there are a million ways in which this film gets it right.


Photo Credit: Lionsgate

One Response to “The Hunger Games totally lives up to the hype”

March 23, 2012 at 12:46 PM

Considering the high advance praise for the flick, I think perhaps my hopes may have been set to high.

I liked Hunger Games, but I didn’t love it. I think Carla said it best on Twitter, that it was missing its heart. The Reaping, which to me defines Katniss more than any other moment in the entire series, had considerably less impact than I hoped it would have. Maybe it’s because we’d seen the most crucial moment in the trailers, or perhaps it was because the scene on screen was much more about Prim than Kat.

I might catch it again this weekend sometime and see if I have the same reaction.

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