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The Hunger Games   —   Movie Review

Synopsis: The land that was once regarded as North America lay in ruin. State lines no longer exist and what is left of the country is instead divided into 13 districts. The districts are controlled by Panem, a strict capitol city where wealth and technology are commonplace for the privileged who are permitted to live there. Alternatively, life in a district means hard work, poverty and for some, starvation. Each district produces a necessary export for the Capitol and as such they are subject to the constant presence of Capitol guards and their ruling hand. Seventy-four years ago there was an uprising and District 13 rebelled against the Capitol, sending war, hope and rebellion all across the land. The Capitol eventually overthrew District 13, leaving the district citizens dead and the district itself destroyed. As a result of this war the Capital developed the Hunger Games to punish the districts for their rebellion. Every year, for the past 74 years, one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen, are chosen from each district by a lottery called The Reaping. These 24 chosen children are called tributes, and they are taken to the Capitol and forced to participate in the Hunger Games - a brutal game of survival where the tributes are thrust into an outdoor arena and are forced to fight to the death - there can be only one winner. The Hunger Games is broadcast live on TV and it is required viewing for all district citizens. Yet in the Capitol the Hunger Games is everyone's favorite annual sporting event. When the tributes first arrive to the Capitol, before the actual games begin, they are given stylists, a parade, are interviewed and trained and coached by their assigned mentors to play to the audience to win their favor, because winning the favor of the audience means you get sponsors, and the sponsors are allowed to send you gifts while you are in the games, like medicine or food.

Enter our heroine, Katniss Everdeen. She lives in District 12 and is 16 years old. Her sister, Primrose Everdeen has recently turned 12 years old and this Reaping will be her first. The day of the Reaping comes and Prim's name is pulled from the lottery for this year's District 12 female tribute. Katniss, a strong willed young woman who has been providing for and protecting her family since her father's death and her mother's mental breakdown, steps up during the Reaping and volunteers to take Prim's place as tribute. And from here we are are thrust into the 74th Hunger Games, where we follow Katniss's fight for survival and the bold choices that she makes along the way.

Review: I saw The Hunger Games at its Midnight showing on opening night. We arrived at the theater an hour and a half early and still there were over a hundred people in line ahead of us. The theater was showing The Hunger Games on four screens that night and every one of them was sold out. All types of people both young and old waited in that line that kept kept growing and growing behind us. Some people were wearing Team Peeta or Team Gale shirts. Some girls were dressed like Katniss. The energy was excited yet calm.

We got into the first theater and secured decent seats despite it being already packed. I don't think I've ever been that excited to see a movie before and if I were alone in that theater I probably would have been dancing in the aisles.

But my excitement was short-lived. Being such a huge fan of the books it's easy to get lost in the adrenalin rush of the story and of the action. Since everything that Katniss experiences is new for her, I get caught up in her child-like awe of seeing these extraordinary things for the first time. In other words, I had forgotten just how bleak and heavy the story was, and that initial excitement of seeing this movie melted once it began and was replaced with the dread of watching a character that I love go through the horrific things that awaited her.

As far as a movie adaptation from a book goes, Gary Ross (the director) got everything right - The drab grayness of District 12 with its melancholy, poor citizens; the comfortable intimacy between Katniss and Gale; the calm, quiet dread of The Reaping; the tacky thrill that Effie gets from being the District 12 capitol escort; the sparkling yet sterile feel to everything associated with The Capitol; the media frenzy in the Capitol when the newly chosen tributes arrive; the absolute terror of being a player in the Hunger Games.

Even the casting was done perfectly. Though I had some initial complaints with the casting of Peeta, Katniss and Haymitch - because I thought appearance-wise they didn't fit the characters in the book to a T - their performances as those characters were spot-on. The whole cast was comprised of such quality actors, even though many of the other tributes in the games were cast as first time actors, the directing was so strong and the script was so natural that no scene seemed hamy (I'm looking at you Twilight x4) and every line and look felt sincere.

With the exception of the few minor things that they changed and those that they left out, the movie played exactly how it did in my head when I was reading the book. But this review is not without its complaints, so here they are...

There are many significant moments that happen in the movie that they never explain so if you don't read the book you'll miss out on the enormity of their meanings. Here's a list of them: The significance of the Mockingjay pin (and what the Mockingjays stand for); the meaning behind the hand signal Katniss gives to the camera; the importance of sponsorships and how hard they had to work to get them; the significance of the Capitol servants; the horror of the dogs (or, what they are made from) that signify just how twisted the Capitol is; and most importantly, the romance angle between Katniss and Peeta.

The only one that I will go into detail on is the romance angle because despite all the other examples I've listed this is the one that has the most impact on the story. I hope that in the second movie they'll make more of a point to clear up this story element but I think they could have taken a little more time to go into some explanation in the first movie. In the book the romance angle between Peeta and Katniss is mostly fabricated for the sake of winning audience and sponsorship favor. The idea was essentially hatched out of the (questionably) real confession from Peeta during his interview with Caesar that he is in love with Katniss. The audience eats it up so much that Haymitch tells Katniss to play up the doomed lovers angle so that her popularity increases (she has a bit of an attitude and needs all the help she can get). In the movie they kind of hinted that she should play up the romance angle for the cameras but by no means was it apparent that her feelings for Peeta were being exaggerated. The fact of the matter is that while Katniss had a degree of affection for Peeta because he had helped her once a long time ago, now that the stakes meant life and death she didn't entirely trust him. Was this declaration of affection a ruse? Was the fact that he was being nice to her a ploy to get her guard down? She's conflicted but she has to win so therefore has no problem playing the part of the girl in love. This of course makes things more complicated as the story rolls on in the other books but it's their beginnings here in the Hunger Games that clearly marked the road that they would be forced to travel on, and I thought that fact was sorely overlooked.

The final issue that I took with the movie is this: the book is told from first person so for the entire story you're inside Katniss's head, you see the world as she sees it and as a result you get an immense depth to the story and the world that she lives in. This element does not translate well into movie form, or at least it didn't translate at all in this movie. As a standalone film, without having read the books, you would never miss something like that. But for me, I felt like the tone of the story rang a little hollow. I couldn't pinpoint what it was about the movie as I was watching it that made me feel like something so important was missing, but after giving it some thought I realized that it was the heart and soul of Katniss that was missing. I felt like I was looking at photographs of an experience I'd once had, the images were evoking the emotions I had associated with those moments but the presence was gone, so it would only ever be an echo of something that was once so profound.

4 out of 5 stars

Posted 3.30.2012 2:29:34 PM

Replies
Ryan wrote:
So what ARE the dog made from?
Posted 4/1/2012 12:33:11 AM
Tom wrote:
Ryan: People

I thought this movie was one of the most respectable book translations I've seen. I like the way they handled the Peeta flashback. They didn't make it too clear that Katniss was almost dead at the time he threw the bread but it worked. You got the story about her dad when she was hallucinating. I agree that they missed out on how much Peeta is infatuated with Katniss. If I hadn't read the books, I would have just thought it was a ploy from both sides. I think they had to stray from Katniss being the sole narrator. Otherwise, the movie could only be from her perspective. We couldn't see the games being conducted which was fun. We wouldn't be able to see the other districts watching the games.
Posted 4/1/2012 12:33:48 PM - Tom's website
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