The Hunger Games

As a man who has bathed himself in cynicism for most of his adult life, I can’t help but be skeptical when I find myself standing face to face with the next big thing. It’s hard to blame me when you realize that the vast majority of people out there in the world seem to be satisfied with what can be best described as sub-standard entertainment. So when that next big thing happens to be a quality piece of work, I am surprised and delighted to say the least. Enter The Hunger Games.

For those of you out there who have not yet been broadsided with this newest of pop culture obsessions, The Hunger Games is a film adaptation of the first novel in a three-part series of the same name from author Suzanne Collins. The story focuses on Katniss Everdeen, a member of a civilization persecuted by it’s own government in a time not far into our future. Due to a failed take down at the hands of it’s own people, the government (known only as “The Capitol”) instill fear and display their power in an annual tradition called “The Hunger Games”. Two youths from each of the 12 districts of Panem (formerly the United States) are chosen at random to compete in a brutal fight to the death that is televised for the amusement of the masses. In an unfortunate twist, Katniss’ 12 year old sister is chosen to represent their district. Fearing for her sister’s life, Katniss boldly volunteers to take her place. From there, Katniss is placed into a literal life or death situation with only her wits and her bravery to defend her.

Oh, and a big fucking bow.

The movie, as a whole, does a fantastic job of handling the vast amount of exposition scattered throughout the book. It would be difficult from a film making perspective to do a direct adaptation considering that the book’s narration comes solely from the internal monologue of the main character and her direct interactions with those around her. To add more substance for the audience to absorb, the film’s story is told in a more traditional way; allowing scenes involving conversations and situations apart from Katniss’ own story. That isn’t saying that the focus of the film isn’t Katniss Everdeen, it’s only an attempt to help moviegoers better understand what is happening as a whole. This is beneficial not only for the protagonist, but for every other character involved. Woody Harrelson is fantastic as Haymitch, the drunken mentor of District 12, who I am convinced didn’t even know he was making a movie. And all the praise in the world goes to Stanley Tucci, who steals every scene he is in playing the effeminate role (Stanley Tucci playing an effeminate role!?) of “The Hunger Games” host Caesar Flickerman.

Give this man ALL of the awards.

The cast turns out very solid performances, particularly Jennifer Lawrence as the lead. Her performance as Katniss is very true to the book; managing to create a convincing heroine without the advantages of having the previously mentioned internal dialogue from the novel. I can honestly say that I am genuinely pleased to have a strong female character for young women to look up to. And let’s face it, strong female characters have unfortunately been taken over in recent years by horribly written female characters that could potentially set feminism back a few decades.

Not pointing any fingers or anything...

Since The Hunger Games happens to be a book turned to film that is directed primarily towards younger audiences, there seems to be numerous comparisons to the Twilight franchise in terms of it’s female main character and the love triangle presented in the story. This does not work in favor of The Hunger Games simply because audiences who are so disgusted with the Twilight series will potentially be deterred from watching or reading anything that is even remotely compared to the Stephanie Meyer books. I can honestly say that comparisons between the two stories are non-existent. The Hunger Games is a solid story with great character development and… an actual coherent plot. Both the book and the film are friendly to all audiences and is never isolated to one minor corner of story.

The other comparison being made is to that of Battle Royale, a story of Japanese students forced to do battle until only one victor remains. Again, that is where the comparisons end. Granted, both Battle Royale and The Hunger Games both showcase young adults mercilessly killing each other for their own self-preservation, but you never feel that The Hunger Games is ripping off this premise in any sort of way.

Although I wouldn't have been opposed to the some of the death scenes being recreated.

The one area that I feel the filmmakers missed the mark on is the overall theme of the book. Though they do a fine job in showing just how vastly different the Capitol is from the outlining districts and the anger the people feel for those ruling over them, I found myself dissatisfied with the lack of contempt Katniss felt towards the government on a personal level. Throughout the book, she is defiant from the moment she volunteers to the moment the book ends, and I didn’t feel that as strongly when watching the film. Though their point was generally made in a more grander scope type of way, I would of liked to see Katniss delivering a metaphorical middle finger to her oppressors more often than what we were given.

I'm assuming it isn't too difficult to give the middle finger to your oppressors when they look like this.

Overall, the film is pretty true to book; only a few changes here in there, but nothing to get too worked up about. On a personal level, I was happy to have been pleasantly surprised by both the book as well as the film. It is nice to see a a book/film take its audience seriously and treat them like the grown-ups that they either already are or will be in years to come. The Hunger Games is a bold and critical commentary on present day society that manages to tell a complete and solid story. Both heartbreaking and action-packed, it is a story that can (and will) be enjoyed by audiences young and old. A truly positive experience from all angles, especially if watching young people murder each other is your cup of tea.

RATING: 7/10

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~ by Brandon Gnuschke on March 23, 2012.

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