The Hunger Games is a novel that has taken today’s young by storm. You can bet that the release of the big-screen adaptation has attracted the young and old alike to attend. There has already been a lot of attention directed to it. The big question is does the movie deliver to the hype?
The movie opens in a post-apocalyptic world. North America is now one nation consisting of a Capitol and twelve poorer surrounding districts. The Capitol has punished the poorer district for a past rebellion by holding a contest called the Hunger Games. In this contest, each district has one boy and one girl from 13 to 18 drawn by lot to fight to be the one to survive and live a life of fame and wealth.
The core of the movie focuses on Katniss Everdeen of the mining District 12. She is already a well-skilled outdoorswoman who knows how to survive outdoors and even hunt for her own food via bow and arrow. When the draw happens, her younger sister’s name is pulled but she volunteers for her, knowing she doesn’t have what it takes to win. The male winner is Peeta Mellark: a shy baker boy who met Katniss only once when he gave her bread. The two are taken by train to the Capitol where they are given instructions from former winner Haymitch Abernathy.
At the Capitol they are given styling from stylist Cinna who wants to make them look like something not from a mining town. The two learn this contest is as much about style and winning the audience as it is about gladiating skill. ‘Sponsors’ can also send gifts to contestants they like. They’re dolled up in stunning costumes for the opening ceremonies and also impress during training where Katniss has the highest score of all. As all the contestants are interviewed by Caesar Flickerman, Peeta confesses that he always had a crush on Katniss, much to Katniss’ discomfort. Nevertheless they remain aware of the Games and what they have to face. They also know they will face a formidable challenge from the two from District Two known as the ‘Careers’ as they are trained since birth to win the Games. A Career has won the Hunger Games the past eight years and this year’s top ‘Career’ is Cato who is well-trained, merciless and confident he will win.
The contest begins in an open gladiation of all twenty-four. At the end, half are killed. Katniss is left on her own to fend for herself. In the meantime the ‘Careers’ Cato and Clove form an alliance with some of the contestants to get Katniss. One of the members is Peeta. The alliance is successful in getting her to climb up a tree for her life. As they wait at the bottom for her to get down, she notices Rue: a small frail girl from District 11. Katniss is able to come down after she’s able to free off a branch containing a nest of bee-like tracker jackers and causes the surviving allies to flee as the jackers sting. Katniss develops a caring friendship with Rue as she gives her ointment for her sting. The friendship ends tragically as Rue is fatally wounded by a contestant. After Katniss kills Rue’s killer, she lays flowers over her body as a sign of respect.
The Games continue. There’s the medicine round where each of the surviving district has to have one contestant take the medicine. Katniss has a duel with Career Clove but Clove is killed by District 11’s Thresh in respect of what she did to Rue. Katniss discovers Peeta, wounded by Cato’s sword in a fit of rage. As she puts ointment on him he learns all the group’s supplies are captured by Cato and held in an area protected by landmines and an ally. Katniss succeeds in igniting an explosion destroying all the supplies. Now all that remains is the Cornucopia for the last survivor, or two surviors from a single district, to battle for the win of the Games. The ending consists of a battle involving two ‘created’ man-eating beasts. The ending leads to a thrilling battle with moments of intensity and a surprise twist at the end with a rule change. The ending also leads to set the stage for the follow-up movie, due for release November next year.
I’ll admit that I have not read the book The Hunger Games but I will say that the movie is very good in expressing a popular theme of drama in front of a world audience. We have the popular theme of fighting to the death just like it was done during the times of ancient Rome. We have the theme of drama created to stir popularity, intrigue and support. We especially have the theme of brawn vs. brains as best shown by Cato and Katniss. The two are an interesting study in opposites. Cato represents brawn. He comes from a district where children are trained to win from birth. Cato has all the traits of a trained competitor: confidence, skill, lack of mercy and even a lust for killing his rivals, and especially the charisma two win some of his rivals over to form an alliance to defeat his top rival Katniss, even making them forget they would have to be his victims if he wants to win. Katniss is the smart one. She knows how to fend her herself. She knows how to survive on her own. She knows the Games are stupid. She also knows how to show compassion to those she feels shouldn’t be in the Games. She knows how to play to the crowd in her natural way. She also knows how to rebel as she also is willing to give her life if it means losing Peeta. It’s no wonder Katniss’ edge is noticeable and could prove victorious in the end.
Even if you haven’t read the novel, you would notice how the world present in the Hunger Games represent a lot of barbarianisms of civilizations past. You have the Hunger Games itself where children are elected to fight to the death like the Gladiators of Ancient Rome. We have Distirct 2 which trains children to win the Hunger Games: reminiscent of both Ancient Sparta where children are raised from birth to be soldiers and of Communist countries that took children and trained them to be Olympic champions. We have The Capitol dictating these games on the twelve districts, reminiscent of Ancient Rome.
Also included in the Hunger Games are the many elements that remind us of our current voyeuristic culture. We have a reality show of these teenagers in these blood games that are broadcast to live audiences in each district. We have an image analyst and stylist who encourage and assists Katniss and Peeta in winning the crowd. We have a past winner giving the two hints on how to win. We have Gamemakers creating elements of drama and death like the forest fire, the man-eating beasts and the change of rules for two of the same district to win. We also have Katniss receiving instructions and drama directions with whatever ointment and food she receives. We have all contestants being shown off in an pre-games interview and given scores before the contest: reminiscent of weigh-ins before boxing matches. Bloody gladiator matches of the past combine with the voyeurism and media-savvy of the present.
Despite all that’s created, concocted or built up, we also have Katniss and Peeta representing the realness in all that’s staged. We have Katniss who wants to win but feels it’s an unnecessary threat for someone like Rue to be a forced warrior. We see Katniss representing the feelings and sensitivities of most trying to do battle with the charismatic but diabolical and controlling Cato. Even before the Hunger Games lottery, there was a connection between Katniss and Peeta, albeit from a long distance. It was only through the luck of the draw that the two could meet and Peeta could get the girl he always wanted to notice her. Even without the staging and set-up of events, the love and feelings between the two are real.
We also have Katniss’ sense of rebellion. Her moves during the Games, both of defiance and compassion, have sparked a lot of discomfort to those who call the shots in the Games. First act was before the Games as she volunteered to replace her younger sister for the Games. During training, she shot an arrow at an apple awfully close to a Gamemaker to get some notice. During the Games, she developed a caring bond with Rue and laid flowers over her body. Her act of respect sparked a riot in Rue’s District 11 and caused producers to change the rule of allowing two from a single district to win. When the rule was rechanged to one winner only, she and Peeta were ready to eat fatal berries together in defiance. Even the deaths of both Cato and Clove could spark outrage from the Career’s district as they’ve been trained since birth to win and this is their first loss in years. Katniss’ rebellion definitely left the Gamemakers with a nervousness even after the Hunger Games were over. This sets the stage for what could happen in Catching Fire.
The acting in the movie was very good. Jennifer Lawrence gave a performance in a role that was beyond your typical teenage heroine role. She has already proven her acting excellence in the past and she continues to impress here. Josh Hutcherson also did a good job playing the boy-next-door type Peeta. His role wasn’t as complex as Katniss but he still managed to impress and come across well as the shy sensitive type. Alexander Ludwig succeeded in making Cato hateable on screen but his role as the charismatic killing machine was underdeveloped in the movie and given less screen time than it should’ve had. The adult actors in the movie did well with their supporting roles and the characters that came with it, but most were limited to being only minor supporting roles often consisting of stock characters. Of the adult actors, it was Woody Harrelson who did the most with his role. Gary Ross did a very good job of directing even though he has not been known to direct and epic movie before. His first effort pays off well. He also did a good job in scriptwriting with Billy Ray and the book’s author Suzanne Collins although there were some key elements missing. Costuming was also well-done even though there were some outfits that could leave one thinking they were at a Lady Gaga concert. The visual effects were also excellent.
The movie had a lot of great qualities but the best thing about it is that the filmmakers kept from making a Twilight of itself. I haven’t seen any of the Twilight movies but I know enough about them to know it’s mostly about ‘hot guys’ and teen romance. The box office successes of that formula as well as the huge teen fanfare made me nervous that the Hunger Games might take those steps to gain a huge box office draw. Instead The Hunger Games doesn’t stoop to that low. It’s able to keep an intriguing story with the drama without having to resort to sex appeal for the sake of money.
The effort has payed off both on screen and at the box office too. Its opening weekend of $152.5 million made it the third-highest opening weekend ever. It spent four weekends at #1 at the box office and currently ranks #3 with a total gross of $380 million. None of the Twilight movies have been able to achieve either box office result. It’s no wonder there were even older adults in the audience the time I went. Unlike Twilight, The Hunger Games goes beyond the expected targeted teen and its pays off.
The Hunger Games does have its flaws and imperfections but it does an excellent job in creating an intriguing story that does its best to avoid distractions and most typical box-office gimmicks. The result is a quality epic that’s as smart as it is thrilling.
One last note: Okay I know it’s been weeks since The Hunger Games opening. The thing is I only saw it three weeks ago as I normally wait for big hit movies to have the crowds die down. Also I have been mentally exhausted for weeks and have had a lack of ambition to write. Finally I got it back.