The Hunger Games (Lions Gate)
Rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images - all involving teens.
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland.
Written by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins.
Directed by Gary Ross.
Oh-oh. Another wildly popular (juvenile) book series is coming to theaters, just like Harry Potter, Twilight and others. This time it's The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins, along with a built-in audience of young and old. In terms of execution, the Potter folks got it mostly right, but the Twilight gang missed the mark on several levels. Could the Hunger Games team get it right?
Set in the distant future, Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen, a teenaged girl who lives the poor coal mining region known as District 12, which is part of Panem (Presumed to be what used to be North America). Every year, the capitol city hosts a competition between one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district (24 kids, if you're doing the math) in which the children (or "tributes") fight each other to the death. The competition (dubbed, The Hunger Games) awards the single victor and his/her section with riches and food, along with the added bonus of being alive.
When Katniss' 12-year-old sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is selected, the older sister volunteers in her stead, since she's pretty good with a bow and arrow. The selected District 12 boy is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and the two teens are immediately transported to the capitol city for training and media events. Katniss and Peeta are trained and groomed to be strong competitors by their mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), their style consultant Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and promoter Effie (Elizabeth Banks).
As the competition begins, Katniss and Peeta survive the initial bloodbath and eventually form a bond to try and outlast a cabal of kids from more privileged districts inside the huge outdoor arena, as millions watch the televised reality show. More kids die as Katniss and Peeta grow closer - or it appears that way, at least.
If you've read the book, you know what happens in the end.
Having never read the books, I had no idea what to expect from The Hunger Games, other than the basic fight-to-the-death premise. I therefore judged the film as I would any other, based on the movie's merit alone and not as it compares to its literary inspiration.
That said, The Hunger Games isn't a bad film, nor does it warrant the kind of hype it's been getting.
Lawrence certainly carries the film with her ever-improving star qualities and strong performance. There's enough tense action to keep audiences interested in the outcome. Hutcherson and other cast mates turn in adequate, but not exactly notable performances.
While The Hunger Games is set in the future, it can't be considered science fiction, although some technologies are clearly advanced. Either way, don't expect any dazzling special effects.
For me, the story is a little hard to swallow with its post-doomsday scenario of a world with children gladiators, but the morality play of The Hunger Games is cause for some introspection.
If you are a fan of the books, The Hunger Games will not disappoint. If the books are foreign to you, then The Hunger Games will seem like a decent, but not great movie about the moral pitfalls of a society addicted to the worst kind of reality show.