The Hunger Games
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Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. Part twisted entertainment, part government intimidation tactic, the Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which "Tributes" must fight to the death with one another until one survivor remains.Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy. If she's ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Building on her performance as a take-no-prisoners teenager in Winter's Bone, Jennifer Lawrence portrays heroine Katniss Everdeen in Gary Ross's action-oriented adaptation of author-screenwriter Suzanne Collins's young adult bestseller. Set in a dystopian future in which the income gap is greater than ever, 24 underprivileged youth fight to the death every year in a televised spectacle designed to entertain the rich and give the poor enough hope to quell any further unrest--but not too much, warns Panem president Snow (Donald Sutherland), because that would be "dangerous." Hailing from the same mining town, 16-year-olds Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right) represent District 12 with the help of escort Effie (an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks) and mentor Haymitch (a scene-stealing Woody Harrelson). At first they're adversaries, but a wary partnership eventually develops, though the rules stipulate that only one contestant can win. For those who haven't read the book, the conclusion is likely to come as a surprise. Before it arrives, Ross (Pleasantville) depicts a society in which the Haves appear to have stepped out of a Dr. Seuss book and the Have-Nots look like refugees from the WPA photographs of Walker Evans. It's an odd mix, made odder still by frenetic fight scenes where it's hard to tell who's doing what to whom. Fortunately, Lawrence and Hutcherson prove a sympathetic match in this crazy, mixed-up combination of Survivor, Lost, and the collected works of George Orwell. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Synopsis Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, the Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which “Tributes” must fight with one another until one survivor remains. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers in her younger sister’s place to enter the games, and is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy when she’s pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives. If she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
About the Author SUZANNE COLLINS first made her mark in children’s literature with the New York Times bestselling Underland Chronicles for middle grade readers. Her debut for readers aged 12 and up, The Hunger Games was an instant bestseller, appealing to both teen readers and adults. It has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list for more than 180 consecutive weeks/more than three consecutive years since publication. Suzanne Collins also had a successful and prolific career writing for children’s television. In 2010 Collins was named to the TIME 100 list as well as the Entertainment Weekly Entertainers of the Year list. In 2011 Fast Company named her to their 100 Most Creative People in Business.
Katniss EverdeenThe Tribute who becomes a heroine when she volunteers to take her sister’s place in the Hunger Games.
Peeta Mellark The male Tribute from District 12, who has long harbored secret feelings for Katniss.
Gale Hawthorne Katniss’s fellow hunter, rebel and best friend, who is heartbroken when she volunteers and departs for the Games.
Haymitch Abernathy Victor of the 50th Hunger Games, now the rarely sober mentor for Katniss and Peeta.
Effie TrinketKatniss’s elaborately-coiffed escort and PR handler for the Games.
CinnaKatniss’s personal Stylist for the Games who becomes her unexpected confidante and supporter.
• Feature Film
• Game Maker: Suzanne Collins and the Hunger Games Phenomenon
• The World is Watching: Making the Hunger Games
• Letters from the Rose Garden
• Controlling the Games
• A Conversation with Gary Ross and Elvis Mitchell
• Preparing for The Games: A Director’s Process (Blu-ray Exclusive)
• Propaganda Film
• Marketing Archive
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Does it succeed?
The movie is an adaptation of the first part of a trilogy, written by Suzanne Collins, which was initially aimed at young adults. But, like the Harry Potter series, the trilogy appeals to readers of all ages. I can't comment on the quality of the books because I haven't read them, so I don't know how faithful the movie adaptation is. All I can judge is how well the story works on the big screen. The second movie in the series is set for a 2013 release, while the final part of the trilogy will be split into two movies. So, to answer my question, The Hunger Games is a resounding success as a financial venture and it's enormously popular.
Financial success is one thing, but is the movie worth your time? I guess that depends on what you find entertaining. Let me describe what you can expect.
The story opens with a glimpse into the life of Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence). We learn that she lives in one of the poorest of twelve districts in Panem, and that food is scarce. She feeds her mother and sister by hunting for game in the woods and she's a gifted archer. The twelve districts hold a lottery each year to select a boy and girl to represent them. The 24 children will fight to the death and only a single victor will survive. When Katniss sees her young sister chosen, she volunteers to take her place. The chosen boy from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson).
That's all we are told about life in District 12. This is not a drama in which we learn about the struggle to live under such a regime, it's more of an action movie. The story moves on quickly and we are shown the sharp contrast between District 12 and the Capitol, where the population is wealthy and the games are seen as nothing more than a form of entertainment. Katniss and Peeta are interviewed on television by host Caesar Flickerman (Tucci). The Capitol is presented as weird and decadent, and most people look like extras from Amadeus. One character looks to be based on Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter. I had the impression that these people were weird for the sake of being weird and it didn't feel convincing.
The movie plays out like an American version of Battle Royale with elements from The Running Man added for good measure. Those in control of the game can intervene at will using computers. Sometimes they will send medicine, while at other times they will harm or kill some of the contestants. It's all a grotesque manipulation aimed at entertaining the population in the Capitol.
Director Gary Ross is a gifted storyteller, and he also has writing credits for Big, Pleasantville, and Seabiscuit. Unlike all three of those movies, I found that The Hunger Games lacked depth. It's obvious why I am supposed to root for Katniss as she risks her own life to save her sister, but there aren't enough background details to make me connect with her strongly. It felt more like a cynical plot device than anything that was remotely real.
So, for me, The Hunger Games became something of a comic book. There is an attempt at showing group dynamics. Who will work together? At what point will they try to kill each other? Who will take their chances alone? What skills will each of the characters have? How inventive will the deaths be? But the attempt is flawed because some of the most dangerous contestants are displayed as sneering idiots, and it detracts from the seriousness of the situation. This is supposed to be a battle for survival, not a comedy?
I'm trying to give a balanced review, but some of the battles are rather silly. That's not to say that the movie doesn't have a few good moments. One alliance in particular did resonate with me and I reacted emotionally to the death of one character.
My overall impression is one of sadness. Not because of the death of some of the characters, but at what we are becoming as a society. Do we really need to see children fight to the death in order to be entertained? As with modern comedies, we are relying more on shock value than good writing. Katniss Everdeen was portrayed well by a promising actress, but original ideas were few and far between. You know almost exactly what to expect from The Hunger Games before it begins, and most events are thoroughly predictable.
The next three movies will be a huge success, I am sure, but I'm not anxiously awaiting their release. I'm glad that I avoided The Hunger Games in theaters and waited to borrow the Blu-ray from a friend. Don't label me as a prude or someone who is against violence in movies. One of my favorites is Kill Bill, but, unlike the portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, I was shown enough background to care about what happened to The Bride.
This movie does have a huge audience as I outlined at the beginning. If you are the kind of moviegoer who enjoys action, good presentation, and special effects, The Hunger Games will entertain you. You'll need to switch your brain off for a couple of hours, but movies like this do have their place. I guess that's why they get made. I am left wondering about the book and how much was left out. Don't let this review stop you from buying the Blu-ray (which looks and sounds fantastic) or checking out the movie for yourself. I'm clearly in the minority on this one.
(9/29/13 Edit to add: After seeing this movie for the second time, I eventually ended up buying it. It seems that I was in the wrong mood the first time I saw it. Jennifer Lawrence is very good in the role and I am planning to see the sequels and maybe even read the books. I upgraded my rating to 3.75/5).
This film genuinely challenged my preconceptions. Until now, I happily believed that "Twilight" was the most stupid pop culture phenomenon that ever existed, but I am tempted to believe that the "Hunger Games" could actually knock it off it's pedestal.
Which is especially disappointing since the character of Katniss Everdeen is such a strong female figure, and a refreshing change from all the insufferable damsels that have been terrorizing mankind in recent years.
In fact, the whole concept of the "Hunger Games" is really intriguing, but it turns out to be a shamefully wasted opportunity.
But I'll get to that later.
First, the technical aspects of the film - and there's not much good to say about them.
While the script appears to be acceptable, the film is overlong and has a tendency to drag.
The cinematography is dull and unimaginative, but it's difficult to spot anyway, since the excessive use of shaky cam renders the film almost unwatchable.
The score utterly forgettable, which is particularly surprising since I love James Newton Howard's work for the "Dark Knight" and "The Village", among others.
The acting has been praised a lot, but except Jennifer Lawrence, who delivers a very strong performance, there's little acting in it. Peeta spends 140 minutes with the exact same facial expression, the other tributes are afterthoughts, and while Tucci and his cohorts are truly amusing, all they do is embody caricatures. It must have been fun to do and is fun to watch, but I don't consider it to be real acting.
The real problem is the story itself and the way it is presented.
Personally I think that the Hunger Games are not a practical method of coercion; I can't imagine a dictatorship relying on such a device would be very successful.
Real dictatorships work because they concentrate their efforts on some declared "enemy", by subjecting people they consider "unworthy" to torture and genocide.
Thereby implanting a deluded sense of unity in their "official" population.
I can't imagine that people watching their own children being murdered on television would not rise up regularly. Just look at the French Revolution - starvation, ongoing wars and the decadence of the upper class were enough for one of the most formidable movements in history - deliberate murder was not necessary to make the people fight back.
Yet, the population of Panem does nothing. Since the barbaric games have been going on for 73 years, one wonders why they still have children, considering they can't feed them and they might be slaughtered any day.
Perhaps because they don't perceive the ritual as barbaric. Nobody seems to mind.
This lack of rebellion, lack of thought even, is my major problem with the story.
One might say that's the whole point of a brainwashed civilization, and that's true.
That's where it gets interesting. And that's where the story fails completely, because the moviemakers seem to be just as brainwashed as the Panemians.
They never once step back to show the audience how sick this idea really is.
Never once do we see any character reflect on it, nobody protests about being thrown into an arena to die. Nobody has any objections to kill. Nobody questions this most gruesome event, or the authorities.
Regrettably, this makes the characters incredibly flat.
When they are lifted up into the arena, waiting for the countdown to the bloodbath, all in a starting grid position, I was oddly reminded of an annual sports event at my grade school. It was of course perfectly harmless, but since I was never an athletic child, I despised it wholeheartedly, and more often than not, I simply resisted and stayed home that day.
So why was I reminded of this pedestrian event in a scene where 24 kids get ready to slaughter each other ?
Because not one of them shows any reaction. Nobody panics. Nobody cries. Nobody throws up. No nervous breakdowns. No nothing. They act like they are trained killing machines, but given the fact that they have been plucked out of their lives to fight to death against their will, this makes absolutely no sense.
I was also reminded of a scene in "Gladiator", when the fighters are waiting to go out into the arena (not the Colosseum). One of them is shown literally wetting his sandals, and while it's not pretty to look at, it is poignant. And we are talking about a grown man here, who is not confronted with having to kill 12-yearolds to survive.
He simply knows he's going to die an unpleasant death, and that unsettles him. I can relate to that....
But, no such thing in the Hunger Games.
Nobody has any problem taking life either.
Which reminded me of another scene in another Russell Crowe flick, "Proof Of Life".
There, the Crowe character has to cut somebody's throat during a rescue operation.
Crowe, a masterful actor, shows his character's suppressed urge to vomit as he does this - and this guy is supposed to be a soldier, turned into a private security person. Somebody trained and used to killing.
Yet, the tributes go about their task with robotic efficiency, which I find most perplexing.
Well, enough of that now.
A word on the adoring public reaction to the film :
I have read in another negative review here that a fan of the series was unhappy, because at the end, only Katniss is presented with a crown, when Peeta should have one, too.
To me, that says everything. Apparently, the thing is being watched as some sort of pageant, complete with the earlier styling and talkshow scenes.
An underdog's claim to fame, a grittier version of American Idol. The fact that children are murdering other children seems to have no bearing on it.
Apparently, the victory matters. And so does the crown.
If I would find myself in the most unfortunate position of being a Hunger Games tribute, and in the even more unlikely situation of having won, unathletic and flinching as I am.......well, I would spit on the crown and throw it into the president's face in disgust.
On live TV. And then they could shoot me for all that I care, for I could not live with myself anyway.
But the movie seems to inspire no such reaction in anybody else. At the theatre, everbody was having a jolly good time. The heroine is plucky and beautiful, she get's a lot of limelight, a crown and a puppy, and everybody's happy.
Well well. I heard somewhere that the story was supposed to be a dark parable, a fierce criticism of our society's addiction to gore and reality TV.
If that is so, it turned upon itself in a screeching swirl.
I certainly didn't feel like part of a socially aware audience, watching a daring, important, critical film. I felt surrounded by a hundred "Neo-Roman" brats, watching handsome guys in tight clothes whacking each other.
It's just another triumph of hypocrisy. Let's bait a teenage crowd with a sick little premise, but don't forget to add a gallon of softener. Don't make it too intense. Don't make anybody think. We wouldn't want the little ones to have nightmares, now would we ??
Such a wasted opportunity should be awarded with -10 stars, but since I have to give it one, it might as well be for Jennifer Lawrence's skilled and engaging performance.
Unfortunately, she can't save this trainwreck.
May your brain be ever in your head.........