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The Hunger Games [DVD]
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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.
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As punishment for the rebellion and as a reminder of who's "in charge", the Capitol hosts a violent pageant every year. Twenty-four young people of pre-college age are chosen by lottery to participate in the pageant; one boy and one girl from each district. The plot is a dark take on reality television contests: the pageant, called "The Hunger Games", requires the 24 tributes (they're not called contestants) engage in a fight-to-the-death contest in a wilderness-like arena controlled by unseen technicians in a war room of sorts. Only one tribute can be declared the winner at the end of the games, essentially requiring the other 23 tributes to perish. The games are broadcast on large screens so members of each district can watch the fates of their representatives. The event is hosted by a television game-show host/MC, Claudius Templesmith (Stanley Tucci), who makes Richard Dawson (of Family Feud fame) seem like a high-cultured gentleman. "And may the odds be ever in your favor!" is the motto of the Games.
Of the 12 remaining districts, District 12 is the poorest, made up of primarily miners and other blood-and-sweat workers. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a teen girl who has self-taught herself to use the bow to hunt for game and sell in the town. On Tribute Day, all the youth from age 12 to 18 are brought to the town square where Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), a resident of the Capitol who, like many of her colleagues, enjoys wearing garish and flamboyant outfits, hosts the lottery ceremony. She picks Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields), Katniss' sister to participate. Katniss, stunned, offers to volunteer for the Games in her sister's stead. Since this is the first time someone has ever volunteered, the proposition is accepted by the State. The other tribute from District 9 is Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson).
Katniss and Peeta are chaperoned by Effie Trinket to the Capitol on a bullet train. There they meet their mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a winner of the Hunger Games many years previously. He is there to help train and instruct Katniss and Peeta, but his highest priority seems to be drinking and snoozing. Eventually, Katniss and Peeta with interesting finesse convince Abernathy that they are worth helping.
Once at the Capitol, they are paraded in front of the elite residents who cheer and decide which tributes they wish to root for. The tributes are then brought to a training facility, being told not to "hurt" any of the other tributes. They say there will be plenty of time for violent engagement relatively soon! They are treated like celebrities about to embark on a fashion pageant, being given beautiful outfits to wear during interviews. Of course, everyone knows the outcome of the pageant means 23 of the 24 tributes will not survive. Eventually, on the fateful day, the 24 tributes are transported to the arena-wilderness area where food and weapons are strewn about which can be used to better someone's chances. We also learn that the game is also "rigged". The control room doesn't just monitor the tributes but has power to influence situations. There are also "sponsors", Capitol residents, who can aid tributes they like. This story has become more relevant with the rise of "fake news" and distrust of television journalism with distorted media.
Overall, a well-done and impassioned view of a bleak future which rings of Orwell's "1984" and the 1970's cult classic "Roller Ball". In "Roller Ball" two teams donning skates battle each other on a rink. In the final game, players can only leave the game if they're killed, which is essentially the same idea as "The Hunger Games". The film finds a good balance between the heartlessness of the competition (if competition it can be called) and the emotions of the characters. At one point, Katniss befriends a young African-American girl, Rue (Amandla Stenberg), who is obviously too young to be part of the games. They become allies to help each other defend against another "gang" who desires to kill them. One of the most touching and poignant moments of the film is their friendship and Rue's fate.
The director steadily builds characterization as the plot progresses with mesmerizing dramatic tension. I was spellbound by the contrast between the realistic, earthiness of the "district" people when juxtaposed with the quirky, cruel, futuristic administration.
I would also recommend it for study in both literature and social studies classes. The topics for discussion are endless.
I now see why my students love it.