Promoted as the movie of the summer – and quite possibly, even the film of the year, after I read the novel this past winter (if you want the truth, curiosity got the best of me), I was left baffled by what the appeal of the story was. Still… that didn’t stop me from having a rental copy held the first day it was on DVD.
War tore apart a nation that was once “one.” Now, the nation of Panem keeps to a strict code among their divided 12 districts – each of which house people that survive by adhering to one source of employment. Every year, the Capitol picks two tributes from each district to participate in The Hunger Games – a battle to the death, as a means of reminding everyone the consequences of war. 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) has a load of responsibility on her shoulders. She is the one who puts food on the table, hunting with a bow and arrow along with her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) while her mother is satisfied to sit at home listless since her husband’s death and her younger daughter, Prim (Willow Shields) is made to feel safe by Katniss.
On the day of the selection, all of the young people up to age eighteen line up to wait as the two names of the tributes are drawn and read aloud. This year, Katniss’ worst nightmare is realized when her sister’s name is the one chosen. Volunteering, Katniss takes her place as tribute and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is the second to represent district 12 – a boy with whom Katniss shares a past. In the shocked aftermath of the selection, Katniss and Peeta are whisked away to The Capitol for training. Winning will mean wealth and a new life for one… but for the rest of the tributes, it means death. The 74th Hunger Games are about to begin.
Before I ramble on in a gushing rave or any sort of ranting tirade, I should say upfront, that I am conflicted about this story. In my opinion, it’s one that had great potential but its glaring prospective was squandered – shamefully. Any of you who have read this blog for any length of time know I hold little ardor for The Hunger Games but I wasn’t going to not see the film after reading the book. The story, on film goes through a wide range of emotions and I “felt” those – it has the power to bring a smile or laughter and tears (I will just admit it… I cried) but most of all, it made me “mad” because of its flawed premise. Without further ado, my thoughts are as follows.
Visually, this movie is pretty. The sets are phenomenal. To see the tributes emerge from their stark frightened nature and desolate world into the elaborate Capitol to finally, the danger of the ‘games’ themselves is a wonder in and of itself. We don’t need words to understand how ghastly the districts are or how horrifying controlled 'game' location really is because the sets so beautifully emit that. Though it doesn’t make it a world I want to visit – nor is it one I want to live in. The filming is impressive but some of the flashback moments may confuse if you aren’t familiar with the material as the frame flashes onto the screen but doesn’t fit with what else is going on. My recommendation would be to read the book prior to seeing the movie so that you do understand the scope and know what is about to happen – your understanding is much better this way. The entire production quality is really quite impressive – the costumes are beautiful and perfectly a-line with the novel description and the ending is both “complete” though left open for those that know – and anticipate, there is more to come.
The film is not as complementary to the novel as some adaptations despite being co-scripted by the author but in this case, that was improvement. Though the script isn't word-for-word of the book, it's more reflective than conversational; countless shots of the camera focus on Katniss’ face in an attempt to convey what she is feeling. For the most part, in that regard I was impressed with its female protagonist. Lawrence makes Katniss a heroine with more empathy and easier to root for. She keeps true to her wooden personality but she also gives her more “feeling” so that we desire to get behind her. Where Katniss is blunt and fearless, there is the kind-hearted, generous Peeta whose only chance to survive may be obtaining the favor of sponsors. Josh and Jennifer have sweet chemistry while poor Liam never does get a fair chance to show off any acting talent since ninety percent of the time he is on-screen he never says a word. I'll fess up: I nearly melted when Katniss' kissed Peeta and he resolutely claimed he couldn't let her go (this is way better than the book and normally I wouldn't be so... mushy *wink*). Also, the scene when Katniss thinks she's lost Peeta is precious! Supporting cast is likewise phenomenal and consists of Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bently and Donald Sutherland, and in the surprise performance of the movie, Woody Harrelson as Peeta and Kitniss’ mentor, Haymitch. Like Lawrence, he makes his drunk, loser of a character a great deal more considerate, and I was actually touched by some of his scenes with Katniss.
So what do my thoughts boil down to? I did like the movie. I watched part of it, shut it off and pondered while making some dinner before settling in to watch the second half. There is something “catching” about the movie and I actually cried when a certain beloved character died (I never do that!) but I am not sure that its pull is strong enough to be so… addictive. Its premise bothers me and there is really no way around that. I loved that the movie opens up to new perspectives and we aren’t limited to Karniss’ POV, especially enlightening is one scene with President Snow when he questions the games keeper as to why there is a victor – his analysis is that the only thing stronger than fear is hope. The “logic” of this story is twisted to me: Despite it supposedly being about “courage and honor,” I see self-defense killing for sport a horrible thing for young people to get behind. What this says about our culture doesn’t seem at all flattering.
What were your thoughts about The Hunger Games? Have you seen it? Are you going to? Start typing, friends!
(What to know: Many people die in the first seconds of the games as tributes race to get weapons. Each kill is just out of camera range but there is blood spatter in some instances. Characters are hurt. Arrows, spears and knives pierce fellow competitors in the games. There are a few minor profanities, da*n. One character is a drunk and is rarely seen without a bottle in his hand. The film is rated PG13.)