G3 Review: The Hunger Games

Katniss Everdeen, woman of action.

“In two weeks, 23 of you will be dead.”

One of the many uncomfortable things about watching The Hunger Games is that moment when you realize, “I’m watching The Hunger Games.” The story may be fictional, but it’s nonetheless almost physically unsettling to see children on the verge of killing or being killed.

For the five people who haven’t heard of Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular dystopian series of novels, the Hunger Games are annual contests in which 24 young people ages 12 to 18 must battle to the death until only one is left standing. Worse, it’s all packaged as a festive reality show by the wealthy Capitol, which rules the nation of Panem. A few critics have knocked the film version for not having the guts to look this forced savagery in the eye, but I disagree with that assessment. Even the shaky-cam approach can’t soften those first moments in the arena when you see it dawning on these kids, some of them heartbreakingly small, that a violent death is possibly just seconds away.

Being entertained by a movie about killing as entertainment is, well, complicated. But as a movie-going experience, The Hunger Games is a very good one. A single feature film can’t include all the elements that made the book such a fantastic read, and some hardcore fans (I consider myself one) might be displeased by some of the shortcuts and slight deviations. However, most of the important things remain intact. The movie has many gripping moments and is respectful of the source material.

Jennifer Lawrence nails the role of the reluctant heroine Katniss, giving her the stoicism and contained vulnerability that the role demands. She offers herself up as a “tribute” to save her little sister, whose name is called in the grim lottery (the “reaping”) that determines the games’ contestants — one boy and one girl from each district. The movie captures the gray, thoroughly depressing aura of the districts, and the oppression is palpable on reaping day. Even when she’s all dolled up for the pre-Games festivities, a combination of the Olympics opening ceremonies and the Miss America pageant, Lawrence comes across as a relatable young woman.

The reaping also introduces us to her male counterpart, Peeta (Team Peeta!), sympathetically played by Josh Hutcherson. Realistic about his chances, Peeta still has the presence of mind to play to the crowd in the Capitol so that he can stay alive as long as possible, and maybe help Katniss do the same. Hutcherson makes Peeta instantly likeable even if, as in the book, his intentions aren’t immediately clear.

If the movie has a noteworthy weakness, it’s that there isn’t enough time to develop Katniss and Peeta’s relationship, which was such a compelling part of the book. Their survival depends not only on their prowess in the Games, but their ability to be believable as star-crossed lovers from the same district. The movie doesn’t deal much with the question that defined their partnership in the novel: Just how real are their feelings? Gale, Katniss’ hunting partner and more-than-a-friend back home, has precious little screen time. What’s most important, though, is that the film stays true to Collins’ characterization of Katniss as a woman of action who can take care of herself.

The movie brings to vivid life the disgusting, opulent circus surrounding the Games. The Capitol is filled with people who decorate themselves like Christmas trees and view the spectacle as great fun. Donald Sutherland oozes evil as President Snow, and Elizabeth Banks personifies the clueless frivolity of the Capitol citizenry in her role as Effie, Katniss and Peeta’s cloying escort. But the real action takes place in the woods of the arena, crawling with hidden peril, short-lived alliances and senseless tragedy. Even if you know how the story ends, the sprint to the conclusion is intense, frightening and often just plain sad.

This is a film that should (mostly) satisfy the book’s fans, and it surely will inspire more than a few people who are new to the party to grab the books and get up to speed for the sequel, Catching Fire. See you at the multiplex! Grade: B+


8 thoughts on “G3 Review: The Hunger Games

  1. Can you say “Battle Royale” E? I know you’ve seen this, if not, this book is such a rip off of that movie. Great writing by the way.

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  2. How do you think that this film and the books compare to the Japanese film and novel Battle Royal by Koushun Katami? I have heard some reviews say that the Hunger Games is it a blatant rip off of Battle Royal.

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      • I guess the same could be said for both stories being a ripoff of Stephen King’s (written as Richard Bachman) The Running Man. The short story, not the horrid Arnie-fest of a movie. The movie actually has a few more similarities with this story as far as the TV spectacle made of players killing each other. The motives for playing are also, as the general populace is destitite and playing for money, medical attention, freedom from prison, etc… And that story was called a ripoff of others, and so on. There are no new stories, just fresh new ways of telling them.

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  3. Have to say that I disagree with one of your main sticking points: The relationship/Peeta/Gale stuff. Mind you, I’m coming from a different direction. I saw the movie on Saturday morning, left the theater and made beeline for the bookstore. Over the weekend I consumed the first 2 books. That said, in the first book, I don’t feel that there WAS much of a relationship between her and Peeta or Gale. Heck, with Peeta she specifically says that there was only one kiss that made her feel anything. The rest was all for show, for Haymitch. And Gale is mentioned very little in book one, and physically in it even less. I think the flashes home where he has looks of longing and/or disappointment in the movie do the best they can without the movie becoming a narrative exposition/flashback-fest. And in the books, even going into the third book, I feel like overall, Katniss doesn’t give a whole lot of thought on a “relationship” with anyone. It pops into her head from time to time, but is immediately replaced with more practical concerns.

    That said, I agree that the movie sticks to what is important about the book. Any changes seemed like choices of transferring to a new medium. We no longer have Katniss’ running inner thoughts, so the filmmaker uses different means to convey info.

    And even outside of the movie sticking to the book, on its own it rocked. Beautiful design, wonderful casting (having read more of the books, I can’t wait to see Kravitz as Cinna…he was so wonderfully kind and peaceful in the movie). Once in the arena I was on the edge of my seat. And I ain’t gonna lie ***SPOILER*** The Rue scene…the combination of her and then how Katniss handles it and then the flashes of how her district deals with it….I cried. I still tear up almost every time Rue comes up in the books.

    Easily my favorite movie in at least 6 months. Will own on Blu-Ray day 1.

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    • John totally welled up when it all went down with Rue, and he is not easily moved to tears. The flowers! Lord, have mercy. Beautiful, haunting scene. It was just impossible to read that book (or watch the movie) without thinking of real children in that situation, which is exactly what the author intended. I was so moved by that damned book, and I’ll be buying the DVD as well.

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