The Hunger Games

Based on a novel by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” is the first of a planned trilogy of films revolving around a futuristic society that holds a televised annual celebration featuring children pitted against each other in a fight to the death.

Unfamiliar with the source material, and frankly, a little underwhelmed by the promotional campaigns (at least in proportion with the pre-release hype), I went in to “The Hunger Games” with little to no expectations.

I left highly enthused, though.

“The Hunger Games” is a gripping drama that builds a lavishly detailed setting, unfolds a clear and interesting narrative, gets you highly invested the protagonist, and then lets the games begin.

“The Hunger Games” is the story of young Katniss Everdeen. When her younger sister (still a small child) is selected as “tribute” from their district for the nation’s annual Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place, instead.

The Hunger Games are an annual competition where one boy and one girl are chosen from each district to fight to the death in a nationally televised event. The Games are held as a reminder that these districts attempted an unsuccessful rebellion nearly a century ago. Ever since, an annual “Reaping” is held where one boy and one girl are sent as “Tributes” – combatants in the mortal carnival. The games are celebrated and glamorized by the nation… a deadly American Idol, where each tribute is introduced, interviewed and idolized prior to being sent out to kill or be killed.

The central city that the games take place in is a futuristic metropolis populated by a priviledged aristocracy, enjoying an opulent daily existence. They’re all garishly costumed and comically chic – a day glo bourgeoisie that sits in stark contrast to the dirt poor residents of Katniss’s district, who hunt for squirrel meat in order to survive. Serving them up entertainment is Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), the producer of the games, and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), the host. The wealthy watchers of the show can choose to “sponsor” the participants and send them useful supplies such as matches and medicines if they’re attached enough to the children to wish to financially invest in them.

It’s here that “The Hunger Games” really grabs you. Not only is the game excellently explained and portrayed (I don’t care how far off this show is in the future, it’s easy to buy into because it’s not hard to imagine), it’s here that the movie’s themes about wealth, power and poverty come out to play. They’re not original, per se… in fact every element of “The Hunger Games” seems to have been explored previously. There were times when literature such as “The Time Machine” and “The Most Dangerous Game” came to mind, and films such as “The Running Man” and “Battle Royale” are going to be obvious comparisons for movie geeks. Yet like a pizza with a unique combination of toppings, I felt as though this was an interesting and novel exploration of the ideas, even though it may not have been in actuality.

There’s a brief period of training and mentoring prior to the contest. By the time the game begins, you will be well invested in the character of Katniss, and you’ll know the whys and hows (at least the pertinent whys and hows) of the world. As such, the events that unfold within the games will have weight and meaning. When kids start killing kids, you will care.

And the kids DO kill kids. Once the games begin, it’s “The Truman Show” meets “Lord of the Flies” as kids scramble for food, supplies and weapons, all while assassinating each other. Meanwhile, above the fray, the producers manipulate the environment, setting fires and sending constructs to guide the events as they see fit. They even change the rules as they go…

I had only a few minor gripes about the movie, the first being the shooting style of the fight scenes… it employs that quick cut jumble garbage where you can’t really tell whats going on. I’d like to personally slap every director that chooses to utilize that in their films. Choreograph a fight scene you lazy bastards! I find it impossible to believe that people actually prefer that style of action, it’s just that they’re not being provided alternatives… The second is that Josh Hutcherson left me a little underwhelmed as Lawrence’s district 12 co-tribute. I realize that there’s probably a love triangle down the road here in this series, and we’re more than likely supposed to be rooting for Liam Hemsworth in said triangle, so I’m sure it serves the purpose of the greater story to have this character be a little bland. He just didn’t seem to have the requisite charisma for me given it’s such a pivotal role in the film… And finally, I really wish that this film didn’t have to be PG13. While they don’t necessarily completely sanitize the violence, I felt at times as if they had really given the violence and the gore of the kills a little more power, it could have substantially reinforced the horrifying nature of the contest. I know they couldn’t, especially given the target audience, but if they had, it really would have helped, in my opinion.

Those things aside, “The Hunger Games” was an excellent, excellent movie. It had me sucked in from the first few minutes, and didn’t let me go until the credits rolled. There were first class performances throughout… Jennifer Lawrence is exceptional as Katniss Everdeen. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks make an excellent pairing as the district handlers – he’s a boozy, world-weary ex-champ, and she’s an airy socialite who seemingly dances happily to the tune the world is currently playing without ever questioning it. Lenny Kravitz gives a surprising turn as a compassionate trainer, and Donald Sutherland lends gravitas and menace as the nation’s President. But stealing the show may be Stanley Tucci as the host of the hunger games show. Sickeningly polished and enthused for the event, he puts a face on the exploitative evil that the games represent.

But most of all, it’s a highly entertaining movie. It creates a credible fictional world, puts you solidly in the heroines corner, and then unleashes lets the action and endangerment. I do caution people not to go in thinking of this as an action movie, though… its a drama with lots of action.

I hesitate to call “The Hunger Games” a great movie for some reason, but I reserve the right to change that opinion going forward. I will say this. Even with a run time of well over two hours (142 minutes), if I had been introduced to this via a Blu Ray box set and had the other films in the trilogy available at my disposal to watch? There would have been less than a one minute interval before I began the next movie. Press stop on remote, get up, change disc, sit back down, press play on remote. I was that hooked here.

I eagerly await the next one, currently scheduled for November of next year.

A

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105 thoughts on “The Hunger Games

  1. Alright, I know I’m going to take heat for this…
    I really hope this film does poorly. I have only wished this on one other film before: 30 Minutes or Less. That movie was about some poor pizza guy who got a “bomb” strapped to his chest and was told to rob a bank or he would die. Ha. Ha. Not very funny considering this really happened to some poor guy, but he was killed using the explosives strapped to him by an unknown person. Hunger Games is about kids 12-18 killing each other, pure and simple. I don’t care about the “deeper meaning” of the plot or the “rich character development”. If it was about a grown man slaughtering kids of these ages, people would be freaking out. Why is it okay for children to be murdering each other? I hope this tanks.

    • I’m not going to give you any “heat” – its a valid point. I dont particularly care about it myself – unlike 30 mins or less (Which I get to write up this weeknd actually) – this is in no danger of happening for real. 30 mins was in poor taste, that IS disrespectful to the family a bit. But I’m not any kind of advocate for movies needing to be bound to any kind of morality or anything, personally. If they want to explore a subject, I’m solidly on the side of artistic freedom.

      I wont stand in anyones way who wants to object though.

      I will say this, though, LOL. This movie has 0% chance of “tanking” now. Its going to be an enormous smash. Midnight shows and Fridays opening day results are in, and the movie ranks in the top ten all time on both lists.

    • I respect your opinion, but have you read the books? If not, then I can totally understand why you feel this is glorifying kids killing kids, but I assure you that #2 and #3 bring everything full circle. If this movie inspires kids to read the series who haven’t already, then it’s a VERY good thing, I promise.

    • This is an interesting point. I actually read an article in the National Post which said what you are saying, that despite this movie being about kids killing each other, that point hasn’t really been brought up amongst all the hype.

      I’m with Fogs in that movies don’t necessarily need to be bound to morality, but if a film does go against my own morality too much, it will turn me off. I experienced this with the movie Kick Ass which had an 11 year old killing people with no regret and with more than a little njoyment, and I found it disgusting.

      • I think the point of this movie is very much NOT to glorify child on child violence. I think even the quick cuts/shaky cam style of the fight scenes goes out of it’s way not to make the fights look glamorous or beautiful or cool. The fact that it is children is meant to emphasize how horrible the system is. The movie (and even more so in the books, which I highly recommend) paint a picture of a totalitarian gov’t holding the reins of power with fear and fake hope, where starving people sacrifice their children for the table scraps of the capitol, and how even those who hope to fight the capitol are willing to use the children to further their goals (Book 2-3 spoilers, I guess) I certainly dont think any children coming out of this movie will be saying to themselves “That was so cool! I want to play in the hunger games too!”. They might say “Katniss is so cool, I want to be strong like her” or “Peta is so cool, I want to be brave like him”, but no one, I think, will come out saying “I want to kill some other kid”.

      • It’s funny you brought up “Kick Ass”. I really enjoyed it. I know that’s totally odd considering my earlier point, but consider why she (and I assume you are referring to the girl) killed. They were very bad guys who dealt drugs, murdered, raped, and also had no issues with hurting kids. She was a good guy (albeit a Punisher style good guy) who didn’t get involved with killing for fun or killing innocent people…kids or adults.

      • :D

        LOL, yeah, between being a fan of slasher flicks, and then supporting “Kick Ass”, you’re not exactly being a model of consistency here. :D

        Thats alright!

        Reason #24 why I’m like, “Hey, anything goes!” as far as movies… ease of philosophical stances. LOL!!!

  2. Cool review. Just from the previews all I could think of was Lord of the Flies, Running Man, and The Most Dangerous Game all mashed into one. Then cheesy movies like Rollerball comes to mind. I’ve never seen Battle Royale so I couldn’t give an opinion on that. I hope to catch this in the theaters with my daughter, she’s the target audience and she’s read the books.

    • She’ll enjoy it, and you’ll enjoy it too.

      It’s pretty solid. It’s a really clear and easy to understand story, so they have plenty of time to develop the characters.

      The actual games? The combat? May not be the best element of the movie, it’s a little whitewashed for my taste… but by then youre pretty wrapped up in the characters and the events. Very enjoyable, swing back and let us know what you thought if you do get out to see it, man!

  3. I deeply appreciate you mentioned the rating. I’m a little burned up about this getting a PG-13, given the violence, to appeal to a target audience whereas Bully got an R for a bit of language and realistic (it is a documentary after all) violence. The target audience? Teenagers. Dumb! Whitewashing the violence, as you say, seems like a poor choice, but hey, anything for art…er…I mean box office gross.

    In my mind, there’s no doubt Collins was deeply influenced by Battle Royale. She just decided to set it in the future which gives her more opportunity to set up a fictional world. Battle Royale takes place in the present and that doesn’t detract from its realistic credibility or pseudo-political message.

    Anyone who sees this movie should see Battle Royale which, in my opinion, is kind of a terrible movie. Low-budget weirdness only Japan can provide. One thing it does stand for is the gruesome nature of the contest – it doesn’t back down from blood, gore and “creative” killing methods. And anyone who read the Hunger Games should take a look at the Battle Royale manga series. Sex, violence and a true heart of what it means to be a teenager and someone who is forced to grow up too fast. (And, spoiler alert(?), the guy who won last year is forced to participate again, much like Series 7.)

    I’m damning myself because I’ll no doubt see Hunger Games out of curiosity, not genuine interest.

    • LOL. I actually have Battle Royale queued up in my Blu Ray player right now, I’m going in to watch it in a few minutes for the first time. My podcast partner Chris Tanski “pushed” it on me – so I’m going to have to get it under my belt before we record this week. LOL

      I’m sure it’ll be good, Ive heard good things.

      Meanwhile, yeah, I wouldnt say the movie “Suffered” per se, Meric, it just could have been so much more powerful. There were times when the violence is just completely not even shown, and its disappointing. I always say that that’s more dangerous – the violence doesnt seem to be painful or inflict damage. Where as a full, grotesque representation of it actually show it for what it is – repulsive and repugnant. You know?

    • Ironically, Suzanna Collins (author of HG) said she had not even heard of Battle Royale until after she’d submitted her manuscript for The Hunger Games. I completely agree on the rating thing, except that I think Bully should be PG/PG-13, but I do not necessarily think HG should have had clearer violence & been brought to an R. While I hated the shaky cam because it made me feel “seasick” (I mostly think this is because the only wheelchair section in my theatre is only about 8 rows from the screen), I also think based on the target audience & the fact that we’re still talking about kids doing the violence, it was most appropriate overall.

      • I can see not having heard of Battle Royale. Its not exactly a household film here. I had never heard of it myself until this flick hit.

        Bully’s a different story. Always leery of judging something without seeing it – for all I know the violence is super graphic – but yeah, sounds like something that should be PG13. There’s no real consistency anyways, and the whole thing is a sham. God, by 13 I was watching Jason Vorhees decapitate people.

        Anyways, there are a lot of movie now that “Sanitize violence” doing this bloodless kiling thing in order ot get past the PG13 standards. In a lot of cases I dont think it made much difference. But here I thought some more brutality would have carried some much needed visceral impact to the battle scenes.

        As it is, it’s all pretty much just an implied blur.

      • I just debuted a script about alternate realities (and it involves a car crash which may be edited out) to some friends. I had to preface it by saying, “I had this outline and much of screenplay written before the TV show Awake premiered” because the similarities, though very basic, were still present. Every writer runs into this and it’s terrible. Acknowledge every recent year of Hollywood and see two movies with almost the same exact premise, though they are tonally very different.

        I wholeheartedly believe Collins had never seen Battle Royale because, well, we can’t read and watch everything. I haven’t read the books, but I can imagine she had more prescient, contemporary (read: American) messages to inject into the story. I can sincerely say, “Good for her!”

        If there’s any interest, read the Hunger Games review over at the Vulture. The author brings up a good point. From his perspective, the “whitewash” effect does allow for a PG-13, but could have an averse effect on empathy which is something we develop in the puberty years. Not saying we’re raising a nation of sociopaths, but it is a mortifying prospect not in how ridiculous it is, but in how it isn’t. Then again, I’m probably overestimating the influence of cinema on sociology.

      • Maybe… but I am with you on that. I’ve always said its far worse to gloss over violence and make it seem painless or non-grotesque than to show it in its true repulsive form. What damage that will do? I dont know either… but I do say this would have been a better film if they had been able to depict the conflict more graphically.

        After having seen Battle Royale? I can honestly say that even if she did draw inspiration from the concept, she made a far superior work of fiction out of it. LOL. And there’s tons of other precedents, too, Battle Royale isnt the only one. There’s a short story called “The Lottery” that struck me as similar…

        Plus as you say, you cant see everything. Thats for sure.

      • Wow! Forgot about “The Lottery”….i read it in college……yeah, there are similarities.

      • Lord of the Flies, too. I mean, its a hodge podge of concepts that have all been used before. Even the Have/Have nots society. The combination and characters keep it original feeling.

        You could say that about 90% of the movies in the world though.

  4. Haven’t seen it yet. I’m going to wait a couple of weeks for the crowds to die down. Or maybe get to an early during the week showing. I’m definitely going to see this one. (Especially now that I’ve read your review)

  5. I’m leaving in about 5 minutes to see this. I’m glad you liked it without reading the books. I read the first one and I’m halfway through the second. My daughter handed me the first book and said, “Read this now!” I really enjoyed the book. I’m pretty happy with the casting, so I have high hopes.

    • Yeah, I’m betting that if you enjoyed the book, you’ll really like the movie – although that stuff can get tricky sometimes – comparing what you evisioned to what you’re seeing. But if you’re happy with the casting Colleen, you’re halfway there!

      I know it really worked for me, so my thinking is you’ll really dig it! :D

  6. Great review. I thought the film had many of the same strengths as you did and I completely agree that Josh Hutcherson was not right for the role. Like you I have not read the book, but as you said the film makes the character out to be very charismatic, but Hutcherson was not.

    I really think this was one of those films where the performance (Jennifer Lawrence) was better than the film, but I really did enjoy other aspects and performances in it. My favorite supporting performance was from Elizabeth Banks who was unrecognizable. As for Stanley Tucci, I agree that he was good, but I never thought he stole the show. Then again Tucci is one of those actors that makes acting look easy.

    • I know right? Elizabeth Banks is under so much make up she’s practically a clown! LOL

      I dont know about Hutcherson… my best guess is that its setting up some love triangle where you know one side of it is just not even valid, so you root for the other side. And then thats what prevails. Simplistic tween audience stuff….

      Thats my guess at least.

      I dunno though Ryan, I thought Tucci was great. SO smarmy! :D

      Glad you liked it even though it doesnt quite sound like you’d be at an A with it, huh?

      • I think I would end up giving it a B or B+…the acting saves it from its many problems but they are still there

      • I actually thought Josh Hutcherson was well cast & as a reader of the books felt he did a better job in the role than I thought he would. Peeta is supposed to be charismatic, but understatedly so…not overbearing like the smarmy Caesar Flickerman…remember he’s a 16 year old from District 12, his being extroverted can be as simplistic as his family deals with the public in their bakery..

      • I didnt read the books. Im just looking at him as a guy in a movie.

        And my feelings about him could be summed up as “Meh”.

        Glad he didnt disappoint your expectations though, seeing as you’re obviously a big fan of the source material! :D

  7. I haven’t read the books, but I’ve always been interested in seeing this movie. I’m a huge Battle Royale fan, which I heard awhile back was supposed to be remade. Anyway, I can’t wait to watch this tomorrow. It’s going to be epic.

    • I’m pretty much in the middle of watching Battle Royale now. This definitely isn’t a remake. There’s just the similarity of an event where the kids fight to the death…

      Having some trouble with Battle Royale, too be honest. Feeling like there’s not much to it. :(

  8. Brilliant review Fogs as you cover both camps, that of the book reader or not. I am in the later but have gotten a handful of book reviews from trusted sources and received a pretty middle of the road impression of the written version. Perhaps thats why it was brought to film, a vision for a visual story telling.

    I had written this off but may have to rethink that. Thanks for the insight!

    • Oh, definitely man… check this one out. I dont know if its like MUST SEE while its in the theatre, but its definitely one you shoudl check out. Especially given the fact that this is going to be a franchise over the next few years… people are going to be talking about it quite a bit.

      I liked the look of the world etc, but I have heard some people complain about its limits… I dunno, I thought it all worked very well.

      • I don’t really like that style of action sequence either (I rank it right up there with slow-motion) but as I said a couple replies ago, it does work to mute the violence as it is between teens & for one fight scene in particular, the “tracker jacker” (hornet’s nest) scene, it really works…it reminded me of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, it was shot that way to make you feel like the characters do…woozy, disoriented, etc. Something else to think about…the scene I mentioned was shot 100 feet up, in trees, from scaffolding, not on computers….also, keep in mind that Suzanne Collins wrote the screenplay & Gary Ross (who shares the writing credits) only reviewed/ok’d it & made minor changes. It’s not something that necessarily related to the choices in shooting in shaky cam, but it made me go “hmmmm.” Suzanne Collins was also an Executive Producer.

      • I guess the scene I had the most beef with was the opening scramble at the – do they call it the cornucopia? They play it up to be this big bloodbath and all these combatants get killed at once, but I didnt see anything it was like watching a snow globe AS its being shaken. LOL

        The hornet scene was really well done, I’ll give you that one for sure.

  9. I confess…. read your review to see what you thought as a non-book-reader before we went. We may try to catch It this week. Thanks for doing the research.

      • Kristi says sometimes there are points made in the book that are skipped in the movie…. And it makes it hard for a non-reader to connect the dots. (she said this happened a lot in one of the HP movies…..which I’ve never seen). So for that reason I am always cautious about book made into movies.

  10. Just saw it. We loved it! I completely agree, they had you invested in the characters rift from the beginning. It was so well done that the whole premis seemed completely believable (albeit, in a sick and twisted way). It’s funny, the only thing i found to be “far-fetched were the animals that were added. Weird!

    I didn’t mind the choppy fight scenes. I have an over active imagination, and was able to easily adapt without the extra blood/guts.

    I agree, if the second movie was available… I would have totally watched it immediately following this one.

    • Ah! Always nice to have support for your opinion, glad you enjoyed this one, Deb!

      Now that you mention it, I didnt like those dogs either. Just seemed suddenly unrealistic, you know? Like most of that stuff before hand was really plausible, but then suddenly they’re making stuff up out of thin air.

      Bah.

      But overall, it was really good! Glad you agree!

      • Like the fire created to divert Katniss back toward the rest of the group and the tree falling, the “dogs” are “mutts” (slang for mutations & pronounced mutes). They are “inconveniences” the game makers place within the game space when it’s “getting boring,” or not going how they want. I hadn’t even considered that this might not be clear to those who haven’t read the book until I read these replies. It is eluded to in the “gaming room” they show between fight scenes.

  11. Been seeing nothing but positive reviews of this so far… I’m glad, since it’s one that I’ve been curious about from the beginning. I haven’t read the books either — though I suspect if my library card were up to date, that’d be a different story — so I’m glad to see that you enjoyed it as much as you did, as someone else who hasn’t read them.

  12. Well said Dan. I agree with your review and am quite pleased you enjoyed this film too.

    and, just so you know, they are actually going to make this a four-ology of films. They will be splitting the third book into 2 movies.

    I can’t wait. Great review. You brought out all the things I loved about it, and the few gripes I had.

    • Groan.

      Not at your comment, but at the news youre relaying. Cmon Hollywood ya greedy bastiges… if its one book make one movie. Geez. Unless its an enormous tome I guess. Like I can see the final potter book, because that was literally 8,000 pages. But cmon…

  13. Sigh. A trilogy. Well, at least this one seems worthy of it. I told T, I will again, wait until I read the books before I see the films. I am jazzed about all the hype behind the film, but since I’ve been having a series of disappointments (damn you Mass Effect 3) that I am siding with caution before I ‘give in’ to all the hullabaloo. Yes, hullabaloo. My word for the week :)

    • Yeahhhh… Ive heard Mass Effect 3 was a let down. Now I’m kind of glad I didnt have time to play (Off to find out the spoiler so you dont have to spoil anyone here)

      There is a lot of hullabaloo. Yes. And you know? Its SO hyped that its honestly probably not worth all of THAT.

      But it was a really good flick. It just has an ungodly amount of hype.

      • The thing to remember about ME3 is that the whole game is SO great that the end was a let down by comparison. 99% of the game is flat out brilliant. It’s far and away the best movie you’ll ever play.

      • I’ve played 1 and 2. I doubt Im going to get to 3 now though.

        Be a mensch and FB message me the end that everyone is bitching about so much? Dont want to put spoilers out here… the place I went to look for the end before actually didnt have it. :(

  14. I haven’t seen the movie but I started reading the book, which is quite all right so far. I hope to see THG sometime this week when the crowd dies down a bit. Glad you liked it Dan!

  15. Great review!
    I was a bit concerned that Hollywood would screw this up, but alas–sometimes they do get it right!
    I wanted to address the “love triangle” business because it’s not really a typical situation. What Collins does so brilliantly (in the novels) is that she allows the “love” to grow organically and slowly. I will not spoil in what direction that love grows, but it is well done. And most importantly, Katniss is NEVER motivated by love–only survival and the well being of her family (one of the reasons I like her so much). It is hard to delve into that in film–especially since her internal dialogue is gone, but I thought they at least alluded to it (“I will never have children.” etc)
    :)

  16. I am honestly the only person in the blogosphere who wasn’t completely won over by this film!

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. It was fine. Yes I did draw some comparisons to Running Man, Battle Royale and the likes. But did still see this as its own film in its own right.

    I just didn’t think it was particularly clever or skilful in getting its message across. The direction was good but nothing that blew me away. The dialogue left a lot to be desired at some points.

    I wasn’t won over. A good film, but pretty damn forgettable for me.

    • I dont know that you’re the only one. There’s been some unfavorable Lambscores coming in, so theyre out there somewhere. Granted it seems like 4 is the most common score, but… I wouldnt feel totally alone on that view.

      That said, of course, I disagree. Thought it was a solid flick. Not excatly a threat to make my top 50 or anything, but a good time at the theatre for sure.

  17. Fab review Fogs, cool that we agree on a lot of points, though I actually don’t mind the PG-13 rating and the violence being toned down. I think Liam’s character Gale didn’t have much to do in this one but will perhaps have more in the later films, his scenes are just way too brief to make a real impression IMO. I also agree that Stanley Tucci is such a scene stealer, he’s just awesome in everything he’s done. Overall an entertaining movie, but man, now we have more than a year to wait for the next one!

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