“The Hunger Games,” a movie based upon the bestselling novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins, broke box office records when it swept in a weekend gross of $155 million. The movie, which will act as the first movie in the four film series based upon the novels of Suzanne Collins, follows Katniss Everdeen, a girl growing up in the post-apocalyptic world of Panem.
Panem is a new country that has come up out of the ashes of America, with an affluent Capitol City ruling over the Twelve Districts. From each of these twelve districts, the Capital expects a certain service, so one District might mine coal for the Capital while another provides agriculture. From each of these Twelve Districts, the Capital also takes one boy and one girl between the ages of eleven and eighteen to compete in a televised Battle Royale called the Hunger Games, which serve as a reminder to all the Twelve Districts the price of revolting against the Capitol.
The movie picks up when Katniss Everdeen volunteers as a tribute in the Hunger Games for her sister, who was originally picked. From there she and the other tributes are placed in an outdoor arena and expected to fight to the death. In the opening scenes, the movie really gives the setting of the dystopian future the time and placement that it deserves.
Though suffering from a severe case of the documentary-style “shaky cam”, the movie nonetheless shows the bleakness of District Twelve quite well by showing a short film about the previous Panem civil war and the reasons behind having these games in the first place, juxtaposing this short film over the assembled masses of children waiting in their drab colored clothing.
Unfortunately, the film isn’t really into stopping to explain much of anything. There is an interesting tactic in making one of the minor characters, a sincere blue-haired announcer named Caesar, played by Stanley Tucci, who provides color commentary throughout. It is mainly his role to explain certain plot developments when the movie feels he needs to. Other than that, there isn’t a whole lot of exposition and someone who has not read the books might find it hard to be sucked in to the story.
There is so much happening in the film that parts of it can feel rushed at times. For example, the character of Rue, who is such a focal point in the novels, feels as if she was barely in the film. The film is already very long, measuring in at just over two and a half hours, and though the film is admirably accurate to the novel — not surprising as Suzanne Collins, the author of the three novels, worked on the screenplay — certain things feel a little rushed.
For me, I felt that Rue’s contribution to the film was a little skimmed over. This is by no means the fault of Amandla Stenberg, the young actress who portrays Rue and does a spectacular job of pulling the audience into the tragedy of a twelve year old in an arena where she must fight other children to the death. I refuse to give spoilers, suffice it to say that Stenberg did a herculean task with a complex part.
I simply wish that the movie had been able to devote more screen time to her. It will be interesting to see if an extended, director’s cut is released of this movie because I get the feeling that there was much left out that was shot. The film manages without it, though those who have not yet read the books might find the minutiae of Panem lost on them.
Overall, the film was superbly acted. The side characters were stand outs and I personally found myself wanting to see more and more of the minor characters, even at the expense of the plot. Elizabeth Banks, playing the over-enthusiastic character of Effie Trinket, stole every scene that she was in with her high pitched vocals and the unique way that she bobs to and from scenes, tottering on too high heels.
Willow Shields, as Primrose Everdeen, was absolutely heartbreaking for the approximately ten minutes of screen time she was given and though Woody Harrleson as Haymitch Abernathy had a ridiculous haircut, I actually found that he grew into it and inhabited the drunken character perfectly.
As always Donald Sutherland, as President Snow, and Jennifer Lawrence, as Katniss Everdeen, turned in phenomenal performances, but the real surprise for me came from Josh Hutcherson, as Peeta Mellark, a character I loathed in the novels but was rooting for on screen.
All in all, I would recommend seeing “The Hunger Games,” given that it has garnered such attention already and especially for the attention that the sequels are sure to get as well. If you are not a fan of the books, brace yourself to be immersed in a violent culture where children are sacrificed in a Battle Royale type game show, though not in particularly bloody or jarring ways, given the rating and the young adult audience the books attracted.
“The Hunger Games” was directed by Gary Ross, based upon the novel by Suzanne Collins, and is rated PG-13.