The Hunger Games, based on the first book in a trilogy by Suzanne Collins about a state-run TV talent show where 24 teenagers fight against each other for food, will capture everyone’s attention this weekend. It’s a movie where its lead character - a headstrong female (take that modern day gender wars!!!) - ponders the question, “If no one watches, they won’t have a game” and, ironically enough, The Hunger Games will probably be the first blockbuster of the year because everyone most certainly will be watching.
Lightly twisted and a bit satirical in its aping of American reality TV appetites, as a movie The Hunger Games hits the stride of its novel counterpart with the help of a solid performance from its lead actress and, due to its heavy romance vibe, certainly appeals to its target audience (teenage girls and their dates), but the actual “meat” of the narrative feels a bit too familiar (2000’s Battle Royale anyone?) to be as visionary – especially with how it is handled - as has been suggested by other critics. While interesting, The Hunger Games weakens in its ability to construct honest complication and shies away from the subversive with its family friendly atmosphere. Yet, the film is a satisfying one; just don’t expect the dystopia to be much of a dilemma.
In the near future, our science gets somewhat fictionalized when an annual televised event pits one boy and one girl from each of the twelve impoverished districts of Panem (formerly America) against each other in vicious battles to the death. The lone survivor wins property, wealth, fame and food for their families; a gift of sorts from their wealthy sponsors and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Gamemaker (Wes Bentley). The rich making the poor kill each other for food and security? Hmm, this theme sounds so very 2012. These televised games are insanely popular and, for one 16-year old, a certain death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the games.
Katniss Everdeen, played by a fiery Jennifer Lawrence (who essentially reprises her role in Winter’s Bone as the strong-headed country girl) regards the games as cruel, but feels she – with her bow and arrow skills – has a better chance at surviving than her sister, Primrose (Willow Shields). Of course, she has a reason to survive in her close friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Also picked from her district is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a boy who once gave her bread when her family was starving.
The two are whisked away to the center of the “Big” and the “Rich” in The Capitol. There, they are given a stylist, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), and a Capitol escort, Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and are trained by a now drunk, but former victor of the games, Haymitch Abernathy (a solid performance from Woody Harrelson). Once unleashed in the arena, Katniss and Peeta must use their wits and their strength to fight against the rest of the lottery winners while putting on a fabulous show in order to receive food and aid from their sponsors.
With an engaging opening full of haunting echoes from the Holocaust and a somewhat paunchy middle section that undersells its satire with goofiness rather than futureshock, The Hunger Games adaptors - director Gary Ross, book author Collins and screenwriter Billy Ray – arrive at an ultimately satisfying conclusion…even if they do back away from some of the more disturbing elements. The contrast of rich verses poor is significantly detailed in the film’s first lap and drives home the idea after the extravagance of the PR makes you forget these teens are playing to the death.
Yes, there’s violence, but never the amount that seems necessary to the initial mood of the first twenty minutes. Never do we get the feeling of morality in the decision to kill or partner up from any of the tributes. No, the teens are mostly cardboard creations as disposable as the uncaring way these teenagers are treated by adults. Somehow, an episode of Survivor seems to have more of a woeful consciousness among its contestants than this Twilight-esque lover’s triangle which most definitely gets more attention paid to from its plot. Is it a cop out? Not really. Large parts of The Hunger Games simply kick their fair share of ass. Is it a sell out? Well…personally, I wanted more satire (Occupy Wall Street) and more science fictiony gore (Sacrificial Lambs) and less schmaltz (Kissy Kissy Edward or Wolfboy McGee back home?).
The Hunger Games needs to commit. The harrowing message of kids killing kids is undercut by goofball antics of gregarious excess found in honeycomb hairdos and well-placed edits that lessen the impact of the violence the material ultimately demands. You might get caught up in a sweeping romance, but the satire and its implications, during all the PR shenanigans, get a little flimsy. And while a specific theme can’t be hammered out, the survival film remains engaging from a stellar performance from Lawrence who outperforms everyone around her in a role that, most certainly, will make her a star.
The Hunger Games, borrowing ideas from Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" and Stephen King’s The Running Man, isn’t anything new or refreshing (outside of Lawrence’s solid performance) but the movie operates with that ever popular and so hip Young Adult label in mind to much credit and in-the-minute satisfaction. As the opening film in a larger series, it is much better executed than Chris Columbus’ overstuffed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone adaptation and Catherine Hardwicke’s fruit loop spinning of Twilight.
Reason enough to see it? Why not? After the financial failure of John Carter (a movie I loved), all eyes are on The Hunger Games.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images - all involving teens.
Runtime: 142 mins.
Director: Gary Ross
Writer: Gary Ross; Suzanne Collins; and Billy Ray
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence; Stanley Tucci; Woody Harrelson; Josh Hutcherson
Genre: Action | Drama | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Tagline: May the Odds be Ever in your Favor
Memorable Movie Quote: "I just keep wishing I could think of a way to show them that they don't own me. If I'm gonna die, I wanna still be me."
Official Site: www.thehungergamesmovie.com/index.html
Release Date: March 23, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: August 14, 2012
Synopsis: Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister's place for the latest match.
Available on Blu-ray - August 14, 2012
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; English: Dolby Digital 2.0; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (2 BDs); UV digital copy; BD-Live; Mobile features
Playback: Locked to region A
Lionsgate Films presents The Hunger Games with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.40:1 and doesn’t do a bad job at releasing their cash cow on HD. Visually, the film’s images might not burst forward with definition due to the handheld camera movement but what it lacks in clarity it more than makes up for with color and digital alterations. The forested Arena sequences are filtered to a pale green. The skies are a sickly blue. In spite of the filtering, most of the colors are pleasantly saturated. Details are precise and clear. But, by design, the film rewards viewers with bright lights and exotic colors. Black levels are strong and detailed and shadows through the leafy forest area are strong. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 audio mix more than makes up for the minor defects in the picture with a soundtrack that is compromised of pure adrenalin, wonderfully precise channel moves and a somewhat overbearing LFE that will rattle your walls and your nerves.
One really cannot complain about the supplemental material when it starts with an eight-part documentary that runs over 120-minutes. It’s an amazingly in depth work that covers everything from pre-production design to adapting the novel for the screen to casting the characters to location shooting to post and, finally, marketing. The next supplemental features Scholastic Books' David Levithan, who talks about his history with Suzanne Collins and isn’t too terribly interesting. In Letters From The Rose Garden, actor Donald Sutherland waxes poetically about the script and in another featurette we get a look at the high tech control room. The rest of the special features are just marketing and promotional items.
- The World is Watching: Making ‘The Hunger Games’ (122 min)
- Game Maker: Suzanne Collins and ‘The Hunger Games’ Phenomenon (14 min)
- Letters from the Rose Garden (9 min)
- Controlling the Games (6 min)
- A Conversation with Gary Ross and Elvis Mitchell (15 min)
- Preparing for the Games: A Director's Process (3 min)
- Propaganda Film (2 min)
- Theatrical Trailers
- Poster Gallery
- Photo Gallery