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. I’m glad that you enjoyed it so much as a non-reader. I was worried about how it would connect with general audiences but apparently it worked. My 2 cents: I really love Peeta in the book and love the casting of Josh Hutcherson in the role. I only previously saw him in The Kids Are All Right but he was one of the only things that impressed me about that movie. Not exactly a spoiler, but you aren’t supposed to write him off. He plays important roles in all three stories.

    I was hoping that it would connect that Katniss plays up her feelings for him as strategy and not everything she does is natural. It’s very complexly explained in the novel how she does care for him but is also partially acting. I think Jennifer Lawrence does a good job trying to get that across. It’s one of the things I love about the book–the plot is never centered around romance, and her actions are hardly ever motivated by it.

    • Huh. We’re on the opposite sides of the coin on this guy then… You crushin’ on him a little or something Jess? :) I really liked “The Kids are all right” but he didn’t even register…

      I’m not writing his character off, I just think it looks like there’s going to be a love triangle, and at this point, I wouldn’t bet on him!

      I know I could be wrong… Damn book readers already knowing all the stupid story…

      Where’s the FTS review, btw? You guys so busy with your Badass tourney you’re not doing one? You were all amped up to see it!

      • I really should write something for it! I don’t have as much time as you I guess.. good thing I have 5 other writers on my site ;) And Lindsay pretty much counts for 50% of the material anyway.

        I guess I wasn’t a big fan of TKAAL so smaller things stuck out to me. He’s cute but is a little young though, even for me! He just works for the Peeta that I imagined in the book. Maybe it was my prior knowledge filling in where it was lacking for you in his characterization. He’ll have 2-3 more films to grow on you though!y it.

    • Thank God somebody else thinks that Josh Hutcherson was perfect casting for Peeta! I thought the same as well – and I loved his character throughout the series!!

      • :/ beginning to feel outnumbered.

        I’ll note that the Josh Hutcherson fan club that appears to be forming is all female, though.

        JUST SAYING LADIES!! JUSSSSST SAYIN’!

  2. Happy to hear you enjoyed the film, Fogs. I’m sure I’m reiterating at least a dozen people here, but reading the books (at least the first one), will let you in a little more and probably explain a few of the moments that weren’t told as well in the film. It seems to be a trend to glorify Stanley Tucci in his role of Caesar Flickerman, and I’m right there with you! He was the stand-out supporting character for me, although I very much enjoyed Harrelson, Banks, Kravitz, and Sutherland in their respective roles too.

    I think sometimes ideas have to repeat themselves in different forms in order to open the eyes of the current generation. I make that remark in response to your comment that original ideas really weren’t used in The Hunger Games. Totally makes sense. If you ever read the book, I’m excited to hear what you think of it in comparison to the film. If you have a free moment (and as a blogger, I know those are rare), you should check out my post on the film. Great review, Fogs!

    • I enjoyed all those actors you mentioned. Totally concur.

      It’s a good point you make about the repetitive themes… I guess another way to put it is, as timeless themes, every generation has a right to explore them themselves via fiction. Just because other artists have in the past, doesnt mean the current batch of artists shouldnt. And even though there was a lot of familiar ground here, I never felt it was straight up derivative or ripping anything off. Even “Battle Royale” which its supposedly so close to… I watched it this weekend and its not that close.

      I’ll try to swing by your review when I get home, for sure. Time can be tight, but if people try to bring something to my attention, I’m happy to try to check it out!

      I wouldnt hold your breath waiting on me to check out the book though, LOL!!! :D

      • I’m right with you there, Fogs – every generation should be able to explore the same themes through different art forms, be it literature or film or what have you.

        Haha, you never know, you might pick up the book and be unable to put it down! :)

  3. Dan, well written review! You really captured the essence of what people should come away from the theatre with after seeing this movie. I especially loved the line, “…a deadly American Idol, where each tribute is introduced, interviewed and idolized prior to being sent out to kill or be killed.” In that line you really paint the picture by tying it to the current Zeitgeist (sign of the times). Another line which hit me with a, ‘wow, yah, THAT’S exactly it,’ was when you said: “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.” Brilliantly stated!

    Book, Movie…Book, Movie…Book, Movie…like little devils and angels sitting atop my shoulders & screaming in my ear. I am self-admittedly the world’s biggest critic when it comes to movies based on books I have read. Best book-to-screen adaption remains The Green Mile. However, this devil/angel combo wasn’t about making a choice but about considering them on an individual basis and figuring out that I could incorporate the two & actually really enjoy both!

    That being said, what I missed mostly from the book is how Katniss’ internal voice & sole POV really moves & determines what “comes next.” As a reader though, I got through this because her internal dialogue ran through my head.

    It’s really hard to talk about this and not give spoilers for the movie or books (as I feel I may have slightly done in my replies above). So, for now I will enjoy reading what others right! :)

    • Tune in tomorrow, Kim, I think you’ll enjoy the discussion topic this week. ;)

      Yes, please no spoilers for these… I don’t know if that’s going to be possible over the next four years, but I hope so. I’m sure stuff’ll leak somehow, I heard all kinds of Harry Potter stuff I didn’t want to know in advance. (I need a roll eyes smiley here)

      Meanwhile, glad you enjoyed the review and all the discussion. :) We aim to please! It’s also good to see you back around!

  4. I’m ratting Fogs out here. He refuses to read the damn book. I think though if we all exert a ton of peer pressure and start a petition we can guilt him into reading it.

    Who’s in? Should we start a “Reading is FOGSdemental” campaign?

  5. I don’t disagree that The Hunger Games calls back to a huge number of past sources– The Running Man, Rollerball, The Longest Walk, Battle Royale, The Most Dangerous Game, Logan’s Run, Roman mythology, and more– but I think that ultimately that just proves that a good story will always be about more than the sum of its influences. (And based on your response to this it sounds like you feel the same way.) For me, The Hunger Games is timely, and a book/film of its moment more than many of its influences; it’s a movie about the 99% and the 1%.

    Maybe that’s being a bit dramatic, but it’s not invalid. While Occupy Wall Street is probably no longer on most people’s minds, it absolutely served to define the last couple of months of 2011, and undeniably shed a harsh light on the growing unrest and discontent over the huge disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Hell, we’re almost living in Panem ourselves; I’m writing this from the comfort of a heated office, wearing well-made clothes that fit me, and using a good quality PC. Some people in the world don’t even have clean water. That’s insane.

    So for me, the politics of The Hunger Games really popped, and in fact I may have enjoyed the first half– the pre-game stuff– more than the games themselves. Not to say I didn’t like the games; Ross captures the vulgarity of the scenario in really understated ways and mostly keeps the action tense and exciting (barring his abuse of shaky cam). But it’s the world-building that sucked me in and wowed me. After that, it’s all about Lawrence’s performance as Katniss– she’s just outstanding, and in fact I think her work here actually does rival her turn in Winter’s Bone, the film that introduced her to most of us.

    All around solid stuff. I’m not too worried about the romance becoming more of a thing in the next film; Katniss is really bad at picking up on social cues and emotions, and since we’re out of her head we’ll get even less of that than we do in the novel. Her love triangle only really begins occupying a serious amount of time in the third book anyhow, but with the changes Gale and Peeta both undergo, that’s also when it actually becomes a matter of interest anyways.

    • “I think that ultimately that just proves that a good story will always be about more than the sum of its influences. (And based on your response to this it sounds like you feel the same way.)”

      Absolutely.

      And you’re right 100% on the movies themes of wealth and power. I was far more into the first half of the film as well – certainly not that the second half is bad at all. Let’s just say I cant wait to see how the conflict plays out now that Katniss has a voice in the public.

      Also cant wait to hear you Brian and Sam discuss one that podcast is up! Make it a good one, man!

  6. Great review, Fogs. I didn’t like the movie quite as much as you did, but I did enjoy it well enough. I just wish some of the other characters had better development (i.e. Rue), and that shaky cam was kind of annoying, too. Still a good film, but I don’t quite get all the hype (third highest box office opening, really?).

    • Well, that I dont get either. I like the movie, I think the movie’s worth an A. But now it gets mentioned in with Harry Potter and The Dark Knight? Wha—?

      Although it beat out Alice in Wonderland which didnt belong up there either…

  7. I got to see The Hunger Games Wednesday night. It was the first good movie since Inception that had me engaged and feeling the part of the characters. I didn’t even realize that two and a half hours had passed! Originally, I didn’t want to read the books. I do not like following the crowd of popular books and movies. I read Twilight in junior high when it was the only book in the saga. Once it became popular, I stopped reading the series. It was an interesting story when I first picked it up, different. Then the entire young adult section belonged to vampires, disappointing. I avoided The Hunger Games because of the fame it had amongst the freshmen I knew at high school. I’m not discrediting it but unless I have a lot of free time, I didn’t want to read a book that was only popular with kids five years younger. When I first heard the plot, I was reminded of my favorite Greek Myth!! Theseus and the Minotaur was a favorite of mine in 6th grade. I was immediately reminded of the myth when I first heard what exactly Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games was all about.

    The Hunger Games is very similar to the Greek Myth Theseus and the Minotaur. King Minos of Crete had a labyrinth constructed to hide the half-man/half-bull creature that was his wife’s son (she had been impregnated by a bull sent down from Zeus). King Minos’ song Androgeus had gone to Athens for the Panathenaic Games. He was killed by the bull that impregnated his mother during the marathon. King Minos was infuriated. He demanded Aegeus, the king of Athens, to send seven men and women every nine years to the Minotaur to advert the plague caused by the death of his son. The men and women were put into the labyrinth which was impossible to escape. Theseus of Athens volunteered to be tribute one year in order to destroy the Minotaur. Theseus had announced to King Minos that he would defeat the Minotaur, but the King thought that even if Theseus had succeeded, he would not be able to escape the labyrinth and would eventually die. What had saved Theseus life was love. Princess Ariadne, daughter to King Minos, fell in love as soon as Theseus arrived on Crete. She gave him the assistance he needed to escape the labyrinth. The gift of gold thread and sword were all Theseus needed defeat the minotaur and to find his way out of the labyrinth and to the Princess.

    Now, The Hunger Games involved a yearly tribute of a boy and girl from each of the 12 districts. In this case they were not thrown into a maze, but the area in which they were forced to fight for survival was a labyrinth of sorts. There were certain edges of the map that posed threats, hiding places that could be washed away, or places that would not hide a person long enough to save their life. In order to survive, tributes had to have a sponsor give them much needed supplies. Katniss Everdeen had volunteered to save her sister, but it was the first volunteer of District 12 for any of The Hunger Games. Love also played a major factor. Peeta’s survival depended on Katniss’ care, her sponsors sent him much needed supplies because of her feelings (true or fake for the show) for him.

    In both The Hunger Games and Theseus and the Minotaur, there was an individual representing an oppressed people who had to fight against society. The strength of the protagonist (Theseus/Katniss) also proves their knowledge of the injustice of their society. The purpose of the Hunger Games was to remind the districts of an unsuccessful rebellion many years ago and to be reminded of the ‘graciousness’ of the Capitol. In the myth, the purpose was to punish Athens for the event that had lead to King Minos losing his son at the games. The arena of The Hunger Games was in a way a labyrinth that could only be conquered with personal strength and love.

    • Also, the irony between ANCIENT Greek mythology of Theseus and the Minotaur as the influence behind this futuristic metropolitan world of Panem. I also had a problem with the shaky camera but the editing was great and the story (movie wise) was fantastic. I didn’t mind that we didn’t get much character development for the other characters. There was just enough character involvement and interaction for the viewer to understand a little piece of each tribute. If they were to devote more to character development to Rue and the rest of the tributes, we would have lost the story of our protagonists and influence that strength, perception and love do play in survival. I know that even with the length there were missing links to the book, but I quite enjoyed the film. I think they tried too hard to push this movie out. I liked the actors chosen, not too many well known faces – and the ones that were, they were transformed into their character so well I couldn’t picture anyone else playing that character. Though the books came out in 2008/2009, they were masked by Twilight :( and now that the Harry Potter film series has been concluded, and THANKFULLY Twilight will be ending soon as well, a new series had to begin to become popular. The books weren’t too popular until summer of 2011. They pushed the production of this film this film a bit quickly (one of the reasons I wanted to wait seeing it, but I’m glad I was taken to see this movie!!) but i was enraptured by the story (again probably my love for Greek myth) and I could really feel myself becoming a part of that world.

      • “It was the first good movie since Inception that had me engaged and feeling the part of the characters.”

        WOW! We’ve gotta start pointing you to some better movies then! There’s been a lot of good stuff since then!! :D

        “Hunger Games” was very immersive, though. You’re right.

        It’s really funny you bring up the Minotaur Kristi… I just did a bunch of research on that myth for my “Shining” write-up. In that movie, there’s tons of labyrinths, including the hotel itself, so I wanted to familiarize myself with the story. So all of that stuff is pretty fresh in my mind.

        Your comparisons here are valid. Thank you for supporting my contention that the literature/sources “The Hunger Games” “borrows” from go further back than “Battle Royale”… which I’m quickly coming to believe is one of its LEAST influential influences. LOL.

        Now. You’re in college now right, I think? My recommendation is to copy paste this comment into a word file and sell it to a literature major for them to use as a term paper. :D It’s some high quality stuff, pretty well written! People pay cash for last minute term papers and stuff Kristi!!

        Uh… you know, not that I… ever… did.
        :D

        In the second part there you mention the ancilary characters, and you’re right, developing them further would have been a dteraction… I mean, sacrifices have to be made in order to go from book to screen. Rue’s death is going to be tragic no matter how much time you devote to her because she’s so young! So personally, I had no problem with that.

        The shaky cam though, ugh. LOL

        You rag on “Twilight” Kristi… I hope you’ll be around for next year when I finally subject myself to them. I’ve never seen anything but the trailers… but for the blog… I’m going to do all the movies in one day and live blog it. LOL :D Its going to be a pain for me, but hopefully I’ll find a way to make it fun for the visitors!! :D
        Thanks for posting up! Nice contribution!

    • She’s certainly had some moments to shine. Her role as Mystique in First Class was excellent. And Here, in Hunger Games, I thought she was very good too.

      We’ll see how the “Silver Linings Playbook” is, I’ve been hearing good things, and the trailer just hit, so… Looks like it’ll be a “meatier” role for her.

  8. Pingback: Blogger Interview: Fogs’ Movie Reviews | Rorschach Reviews

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