The Hunger Games

            “The Hunger Games,” based on the best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins, tells the incredibly passionate tale of a future world fixated on power, addicted to entertainment, and plagued (at least in the outlying districts) with famine.  What makes the movie so effective (in spite of numerous flaws) is that it does so in an emotionally restrained manner, compelling the viewer to confront his or her own emotions rather than bludgeoning him or her with the film makers’ views.            In a future with no local authority, the country has been divided by the central government into 12 districts.  Chafing at this overarching control, the districts rebelled some 75 years prior to the opening of the movie’s storyline.  After crushing the rebellion, the central government dictated that each year each district would offer tribute to the entire nation: a lottery would be held in each district in which the name of one teenaged boy and one teenaged girl would be drawn from each district; the people whose names were picked would then travel to the Capitol City to compete in the Hunger Games—a nationally televised gladiatorial fight to the death in which only one person would survive.            Katniss lives in the 12th District, a poor coal-mining area not unlike Appalachia in the early 1900’s.  Katniss offers herself as voluntary tribute in her sister’s stead.  She travels to the Capitol City, a strange world with strangely costumed people who revel in the “reality TV” of that era—the Hunger Games, hosted by over-the-top obnoxious emcee Caesar, directed by ambitious Seneca, and overseen by the imperial President Snow.            Drawing from a bevy of other influences, “The Hunger Games” keeps the viewer visually intrigued.  The sets and costumes make the movie part “Wizard of Oz,” and part “1984,” in which Katniss must adapt or die.  The obvious Roman Empire influence is present in the whole gladiatorial concept, provincial obeisance to the central city, and the Latin names of all the Capitol City residents.  Ms. Collins and writer-director Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”) have concocted a subdued film in which action is the heart of the matter, but is downplayed tremendously, and in which character identification (as opposed to development) is the driving force.  It is an interesting mix, adding a dichotomous realism to an unreal situation, which at times lulls the viewer into ennui and even melancholia.            Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone) plays Katniss with a brilliant intensity; she is not manic like Tom Cruise, nor drop-dead gorgeous like Megan Fox, but she has an affair with the camera that cannot be ignored.  She instinctively sacrifices herself for her family, seethes with anger at the injustice of her situation, flirts naively, works subtly to control her terror, mourns a lost friend, and revels in triumph—all in an inwardly and realistic manner.  In short, Jennifer Lawrence carries this movie magnificently.             Stanley Tucci (“Easy A”) is terrific as Caesar, the blue-haired P.T.Barnum/Ryan Seacrest emcee of “The Hunger Games.”  Wes Bentley (“Ghost Rider”) reveals inner stress as the fantastically bearded Seneca who directs the show.  Liam Hemsworth (“The Last Song”) is Gale, the best friend Katniss leaves behind in District 12.  Josh Hutcherson (“Journey 2: The Mysterious Island”) is Peeta, the frightened male tribute from District 12, who becomes romantically linked to Katniss.  Donald Sutherland (“Horrible Bosses”) plays the pernicious President Snow, whose only aim is to use whatever happens to maintain his power and control over the people.            “The Hunger Games” pays tribute to dozens of tales, from Robin Hood to William Tell (watch for the arrow and the apple), from “The Prisoner” to “Ben Hur.”  But somehow Ms. Collins and Mr. Ross (like George Lucas with “Star Wars”) have managed to craft something original out of the derivative nature of the story.  Still, without the star quality performance of Jennifer Lawrence, this future morality tale would be forgettable.

1 thought on “The Hunger Games”

  1. I would like to mention the camera movement in this movie. It is obviously trying to escape what the viewer is used to watching but I have to say it was pretty tiring watching the whole movie filmed without one, not ONE steady shot… I can understand the point of the director and the cinematographer however there were many shots where a steady cam was needed. I wasn’t so excited on the acting part, however it could have been really worse without Jennifer Lawrence as you already pointed out. It wasn’t the artistic development I would expect from a best-selling novel.

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