The nation Panem has risen out of the ruins of what was once known as North America. As punishment for an unsuccessful uprising against the Capitol, a raffle (known as the “reaping”) is held yearly to choose one boy and one girl — from the ages of 12 to 18 — from each of the 12 districts to participate in the Hunger Games, a competition in which the contestants, known as “tributes,” battle to the death in an outdoor arena controlled by the Capitol until only one is left. The entire process is televised and the winner receives honor, gifts and enough supplies to never worry about anything ever again. The Hunger Games are a yearly reminder to the 12 districts of the Capitol’s authority and punishment for their rebellion more than 70 years ago.
The Hunger Games are overseen by President Coriolanius Snow (Donald Sutherland), game master Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) and moderator Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci).
Each district is numbered and specializes in a certain resource. The further you get from the Capitol, the higher your district number is and typically the more impoverished you are. District 12, used for mining coal, is the poorest of them all and that’s where we meet Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a resilient teenager who illegally hunts using a bow and arrow with precise accuracy outside the town’s borders to help feed her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) and her mother (Paula Malcomson). Her best, and only, friend is Gale (Liam Hemsworth) who helps her hunt for food to trade.
On the day of the reaping, the troops from the Capitol arrive in District 12 along with Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) for the drawing of the tributes. When Primrose Everdeen is chosen, Katniss steps in and volunteers in her place and is paired with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a boy who works in the local bakery. This is a very emotional time as being chosen is considered a death sentence to those in the poorer Districts who are malnourished and untrained. With just a few moments to say goodbye to her family, Katniss embraces Gale and asks him to watch over her mother and sister since she knows she might never see them again. Within minutes of the ceremony, Peeta and Katniss are on a train heading towards the Capitol and their unknown fates.
Once in the Capitol, they are bombarded by strange people with unnatural looking complexions and hair who have modified their bodies and looks to extreme states. The tributes from each district are paired with a trainer and their own personal stylist. Katniss and Peeta’s trainer is Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a drunken, grumpy man who once won the Hunger Games but was forever changed from the experience, and their stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), a kind man who sees the games for what they truly are. Cinna hopes to help the team by designing a look to draw attention so that they might get sponsors. This section of the film really lets you focus on the opposite nature of the lives of those living in the Capitol and those in the poorer districts. There are strong messages about governmental control, reality TV, economic status and hope overcoming all odds.
Once it’s time for the Hunger Games, all 24 participants are put into an arena with a pile of weapons and supplies called the cornucopia. The strongest and most well trained will choose to head towards the pile while the rest run away and hide in the woods.
The book is very violent and graphic when it comes to the killings in the games, so I was slightly disappointed with the PG-13 rating because the kills are mostly unseen with some blood splattering and quick camera pans to those tributes that have fallen. With many parts cut down or eliminated altogether, fans of the books might find themselves missing some special moments they have been waiting for. I do like how the majority of the film uses a handheld camera with frantic and quick movements to showcase the danger and panic of the situation and makes you feel like you are part of it.
As a fan of the book, written by Suzanne Collins, I am glad that I read it before seeing the movie, but it is not a necessity to enjoy this film. If anything, it made me recognize what had been changed, shortened or eliminated from the story. There are some very key scenes, relationships and bonds that make a major impact in the book that aren’t showcased in the movie. In particular, Katniss develops a sisterly link with a small tribute from District 11 named Rue (Amandla Stenberg), who is vital in the book and only marginally shown in the movie. On the bright side, there are surprising additions to the film that I really enjoyed watching, so it was a necessary trade-off for the successful translation from page to screen.
The books have been compared to the “Twilight” series, but I don’t find that so. Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of the strong and resilient heroine far surpasses that of Bella Swan. You never lose faith or stop rooting for Katniss to triumph in every setting she’s in. The rest of the casting was spot on and there are far too many tributes and supporting characters to cover them all, but I will say that almost every character had the attributes that I imagined while reading the book. Director Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit,” “Pleasantville”) took an incredibly loved and complex story and successfully adapted it into a movie that triumphantly launches a new and exciting franchise. A few of the supporting actors are Toby Jones, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman and Jack Quaid.
Bottom line: Did I love every part of film? No. I was disappointed in the scenes and characters they chose to cut. But was I entertained? Yes, I was, and it left me wanting to see more, which proves that the film was a success, even to a fan of the book like me. Go into this film with an open mind and you will be entertained and possibly become a new fan of the franchise. Seeing how well the movie is already doing, it is very likely we will see the next two books as movies in the very near future.
“The Hunger Games” — rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material, all involving teens — is in theaters now.
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