‘The Hunger Games’ hits the mark and lives up to the hype
Published: Thursday, March 22, 2012
Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2012 11:03
America’s stomach has been growling for a film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ young adult publishing phenomenon “The Hunger Games,” and the well-crafted film incarnation is sure to satisfy.
For the few who aren’t familiar with the massively popular book series, “The Hunger Games” is set in a post-apocalyptic North America, which after years of war now goes by the name of Panem. Under a totalitarian regime, Panem is split into 12 districts ruled in squalor by the Capitol, a palatial metropolis for the rich.
Each year, to remind Panem’s citizens of the power it holds over them, the Capitol randomly selects one boy and one girl from the ages of 12 to 18 from each district to compete in The Hunger Games, a televised gladiatorial fight to the death. Only one contestant is allowed to remain standing and their district is gifted with an increased food supply.
The movie closes in on the annual selection of the games’ “tributes” in Panem’s extremely poor District 12. This year’s lucky contestants are Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister, and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutchinson), a stocky baker’s son who sees his chances of surviving the game close to nil.
The story is told mainly through the point of view of Katniss, who isn’t new to the art of surviving. She has been hunting game in the forest to feed her family for years and is very capable with a bow and arrow in hand. Katniss is a fighter and Peeta is often the damsel in distress, a stark contrast to the other young adult lit power couple, “Twilight’s” Edward and Bella.
As the two are swept up to the Capitol to prepare for the games, we are able to explore Panem’s monstrously lopsided class system. While the citizens of Katniss and Peeta’s district are dour-faced and borderline emaciated, the denizens of the Capitol are well-fed and decked out in the most ridiculous outfits and makeup this side of Mars. This clown-like upper class revels in watching the lower rung children carve each other to pieces in the games.
The complex dystopian world of “The Hunger Games” is a large pill to swallow without the pages of wiggle room that a novel can allow. The film smartly sidesteps wasting precious running time to connect every little dot for the audience and introduces them to Panem seamlessly within the plot, keeping things running at a brisk and easy-to-follow pace.
Violence is at the forefront of the novel and the movie doesn’t flinch away. While the more extreme acts are obscured from view, the child contestants are shown bloodily hacking away at each other with knives, spears and swords.
Some of these images, especially those during the games’ opening “bloodbath,” are shocking, but that’s the point. Like our own society, the citizens of Panem seem to be desensitized to the savagery on their television screens and root along with the carnage.
Lawrence carries the movie with her level-headed and naturalistic portrayal of the heroic Katniss. She gives equal doses of Herculean strength and teary-eyed vulnerability.
After years of suffering through the hopelessly co-dependent Bella of “Twilight,” young girls are finally given a strong assured female character to anchor onto.
As Peeta, Hutchinson perfectly counters Lawrence’s stone-faced resolution with playfulness and sarcasm. He spends the whole movie having to be rescued, but is likeable and never comes across as a burden. The relationship between the two characters is potentially romantic, but believable and far from sappy.
Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks take entertaining turns as both flamboyantly dressed and mannered Capitol citizens involved with the Games. Donald Sutherland offers a chilling presence as Panem’s President Snow, who seems less than thrilled at the effect Katniss’ defiance in the game is having on his carefully oppressed subjects.
While maybe feeling a tad too rushed at the end, “The Hunger Games” proves to be a top-notch adaptation and should more than fill die-hard fans’ stomachs before the series’ second installment, “Catching Fire,” hits theaters next year.