The Hunger Games Made in: USA Language: English Director: Gary Ross Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Stanley Tucci, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley, Liam Hemsworth, Amandla Stenberg Year: 2012
Based on the novel by Suzanne Collins
Synopsis: In a dystopic future, America as we know it has collapsed and has been divided into twelve districts. They are ruled by a totalitarian regime which governs from a place called the Capitol, and live under a dictator named President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
At some point, there were actually thirteen districts, and all had rebelled against the regime. But the uprising was ruthlessly crushed. To remind the remaining districts of its absolute control, and for ongoing punishment for the uprising, the Capitol created the annual (and dreaded) Hunger Games. It is a nationally televised event in which one boy and girl, between the ages of twelve and eighteen, are selected by random lottery to represent their district.
The children, called "Tributes," are taken to the Capitol, trained in combat, then released into a vast "arena." The arena is constantly monitored, and can be of any environmental landscape of the Capitol's choosing. Once released, the kids (yes, kids) fight to the death using a random assortment of weapons and supplies that are left for them.
The last one standing wins.
In District 12, an impoverished coal mining area, lives Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). A willful, independent sixteen year-old, she is a skilled archer and often sneaks outside her home district to hunt animals. But when her younger sister is selected for that year's Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take part in the event, knowing that the young girl would probably get slaughtered.
She is quickly whisked away to the Capitol, along with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the male tribute from her district. While on the way, they meet a drunk named Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), who's also a former (and only) Hunger Games champion from their district. It is Haymitch's job to mentor the two youths.
At the lavish Capitol, they learn more details about the games, the importance of their public image, and methods of gaining sponsorship.
And when the deadly games finally begin, Katniss must utilize every ounce of her skill and humanity to not only survive the unforgiving conditions of the arena, but to endure the borderline-psychotic behavior of some of the other contestants.
The Good: The Hunger Games is pretty exciting once the action starts up. The violence is pretty shocking, but probably necessary in order to preserve the essence of the novel.
Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent job portraying Katniss, with her on-screen appeal coming mainly from her ability to project her character's genuine humanity and compassion. Woody Harrelson, although in a minor role, is a very welcome addition for older viewers.
For those who haven't read the novel (like myself), the movie does some pretty gutsy things that defy the typical formulas of other teen dramas (especially when it comes to killing). And overall, the story is unpredictable enough to hold my interest to the end.
The satirical commentary regarding reality TV and other forms of pop culture crap is nothing new, but was effectively implemented.
The Bad: There wasn't enough backstory to the characters or districts, and I suspect the book does a much clearer job of explaining those details. Also, I thought more attention should have been given to the political themes.
The idea of a totalitarian regime taking control of the US in the face of economic collapse is something that's very relevant to our lives today, but director Gary Ross seems to have shoved it into the periphery.
The film also didn't do too great a job of developing the relationship between Katniss and Peeta, or even clearly defining Peeta's character at all. Again, I'm assuming the book did a better job covering those loose ends.
Who would like this movie: With a brightly stylized, or perhaps garish production design, The Hunger Games is geared towards teen audiences and fans of Suzanne Collins' bestselling novel. The action is surprisingly intense, and the unflinching scenes of kids killing other kids (in a non video game setting) might be a bit disturbing to some.
The story's backdrop is familiar, and parts of the movie might make you think of George Orwell's 1984 and Stephen King's The Running Man, if you're old enough to remember those books. As an American teen drama The Hunger Games thankfully never insults its audience and is very well cast.
But like its teenage protagonist, the film itself seems to be stuck in an awkward in-between stage. On the one hand, it might be too violent and gruesome for kids. But on the other hand, it isn't quite gritty or mature enough to appeal to thrill-seeking adults.