Fans of “The Hunger Games,” originally a book series by Suzanne Collins, have anxiously awaited the release of the film since the trailer took audiences by storm last fall. In its final issue of the year, Entertainment Weekly called the preview the best three minutes of film in 2011.
To make it simple, the film excellently matches the action and intensity of the trailer and treats audiences to two-and-a-half hours of dark and emotional entertainment. Although the novels were written for younger audiences, the issues tackled in “The Hunger Games” are appropriate for audiences of all ages.
The film is set in a post-apocalyptic world in which 12 districts must each offer a male and female human tribute between the ages of 12-18 to the Capitol in penance for their revolts 74 years previous. Upon arriving in the Capitol, the tributes are placed in an arena where they must fight to the death until one lone victor remains. This battle, called “The Hunger Games,” is televised around the world and provides an exciting, but rather disgusting, form of entertainment for citizens of the post-North American country Panem.
Katniss Everdeen, the film’s main character, brilliantly portrayed by Jennifer Lawrence (“Winter’s Bone”), solely supports her mother and sister in District 12, often crossing boundaries to illegally hunt to provide food for her family and district. When her sister’s name is drawn to participate in the games, Katniss volunteers as tribute to save her sister, and her hunting skills from living in District 12 become key to surviving the games.
This particular female character has immense strength. Lawrence’s reactions as Everdeen to the cruelty and uncanny attitude of the Capitol toward the games is stirring. Stanley Tucci (“Easy A”) comically narrates the games as TV host Caesar Flickerman, whose over-the-top enthusiasm and optimism for the tributes is ironic considering 23 tributes will be killed in a matter of days.
Casting for the film was phenomenal. Elizabeth Banks (“Our Idiot Brother”) plays the chaperone for the tributes of District 12. Her blitheness for the games is unsettling, but she is still an interesting character with her outrageous costumes.
Woody Harrelson (“Friends with Benefits”) is Haymitch Abernathy, the experienced but alcoholic mentor for the tributes who was once a victor at the games but whose drunken state makes him unpredictable as well as comical. Classic actor Donald Sutherland (“Horrible Bosses”) plays the chilling President Snow, whose old age makes him disinterested in change and always wanting powerful control.
Of course, no young adult movie has ever been successful without the romance add-on of a love triangle. Liam Hemsworth (“The Last Song”) is introduced early in the film as Gale Hawthorne, Katniss’ hunting friend, with whom there is obvious chemistry. However, his presence in the film is limited after Katniss must go compete in the games.
The second dominant male character is Peeta Mellark, portrayed by Josh Hutcherson (“The Kids Are All Right”). Mellark serves as the male tribute for District 12, creating a bond and eventually an alliance and romance between Peeta and Katniss. The chemistry between and Lawrence and Hemsworth was strong immediately, whereas Lawrence and Hutcherson seemed to struggle for the duration of the film.
A main topic of debate after seeing the film is whether or not “The Hunger Games” was true to the novel. Needless to say, though the storyline was consistent and the characters portrayed well, there were some differences, both negative and positive.
The gore associated with the book was reduced extensively, with little violence and blood shown onscreen. Of course, this may have been an industry issue in which the filmmakers were attempting to gain a PG-13 rating for a larger audience. However, considering the film revolves around a reality TV show, the minimized savagery took away that sense of reality readers of the book enjoyed.
While the film does lack that potency, Director Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”) used the artistic ability of film to his advantage, including handheld camera shots for some intense scenes. Ross also fleshed out some story lines to provide excellent foreshadowing for the next film. His creativity with the book’s extensive settings and decor are brilliantly brought to life with the use of color and excellent special effects.
Unlike the book, the film is also not solely from the perspective of Katniss, but also includes discussion at the Capitol, events occurring among the districts and the occasional comments from Tucci as the show’s host. These additional moments nicely provide extra depth to the film.
The release of “The Hunger Games” this past weekend was expected to perform well at the box office, taking in $155 million. However, it was not predicted to set new box office records, including best weekend release for a non-sequel film and coming in third overall for weekend release gross behind “The Dark Night” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2.”
What clearly sets this film apart from other adapted blockbusters is the powerful sense of emotion this film stirs in audiences. This is a film full of hurt, anger, anxiety, excitement and love. The multiple storylines ranging from politics, family and romance make the film appealing to many audience demographics. The film may not have appealed to everyone, but the odds of your enjoyment for the film are ever in your favor.
4.5 out of 5 stars