The Hunger Games

Posted on March 21, 2012 at 8:45 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images -- all involving teens
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Character abuses alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Constant and intense peril and violence, some graphic, sad deaths, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 23, 2012
Date Released to DVD: August 13, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B0084IG8TM

Just as brave and loyal Katniss Everdeen is the heart of the wildly popular series of “Hunger Games” novels by Suzanne Collins, Jennifer Lawrence is the heart of this faithful adaptation.  Director Gary Ross clearly understands the book and what makes its story of a dystopian future world where teenagers battle to the death on a grim reality show so compelling.

Lawrence, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the small independent film “Winter’s Bone,” plays Katniss, who cares for her widowed mother and tender-hearted young sister Prim (Willow Shields) in District 12, a poor mining community that is a part of Panem, the post-apocalyptic totalitarian state that encompasses what is now North America.

Lawrence gives a thoughtful, nuanced performance, showing us the conflicts Katniss feels as she adapts to her new challenges, some of which require her to be even tougher and more stoic than she was before but some that require her to unlock feelings her survival had previously required her to keep secret even from herself.  She has a small dimple near the lower corner of her mouth that transforms her face when she smiles, and she uses it to show us Katniss’ heart as well as her determination.

Panem has an annual “reaping” where a boy and a girl are selected from each district to compete in the “Hunger Games,” a gruesome spectacle the citizens are forced to pretend to enjoy as entertainment.  When Prim’s name is called, Katniss volunteers to take her place.  The other “tribute” from District 12 is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the son of a baker.

They are taken to the Capital City and given luxurious accommodations while they prepare for the Games by trying to win sponsors (who can provide them with supplies) and getting advice from kind-hearted stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and previous District 12 champion Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a cynical man who cannot face training another pair of doomed teenagers without getting drunk. “Embrace the probability of your imminent death and know in your heart that there is nothing I can do to save you,” he tells them.  But as he gets to know Katniss, he cannot help but admire her skill as an archer and he begins to care enough to give her some guidance.

The preliminary activities include an Olympic-style opening parade and the appearance on a gruesome simulacrum of a talk show, where the “tributes” pretend that they are excited and proud to be participating in the Games.  Stanley Tucci is a standout as the oily host with a blue pompadour and a laugh as fake as his teeth.

The preparation stage also gives the participants a chance to get a look at the competition, including some who have spent their lives training in hand-to-hand combat and survival skills.  And Katniss gets a chance to talk to Peeta, who tells her that he does not expect to win, but he wants to prove something.  “If I’m going to die, I want to still be me.”

The “tributes” are released into the woods knowing that in two weeks 23 of them will be dead.  There are some wary and by definition temporary alliances between contestants and at first Katniss thinks that Peeta is helping the others track her down and kill her.  She meets the tiny but spirited and clever Rue (a memorable Amandla Stenberg), who saves her life.  The days go by, cannons firing to mark the deaths of the participants, and as there are fewer and fewer left, it is harder to stay alive.

Production designer Philip Messina provides some striking visuals, particularly in the Capital City, but more important is the way the design helps shape the story, from the grimy poverty of District 12 to the heightened artificiality of the Capital City, the ultra high-tech control center, and the sometimes deceptive naturalism of the forest where the Games take place.  The settings frame the story well and the action scenes are exciting, even visceral.  And Lawrence keeps pulling us into the story, making its most outlandish elements feel real and meaningful.

(more…)

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Intro to “The Hunger Games”

Posted on March 19, 2012 at 3:59 pm

This week’s release of “The Hunger Games” is the most anticipated film of the spring and likely to be the biggest hit since the “Twilight” series.  It is based on the first of a wildly successful trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins.  For those who have not read the books, here is a brief introduction:

When and where does it take place?  It takes place in the future when North America has become a totalitarian country called Panem following an apocalyptic catastrophe.  Panem has a capitol city and thirteen numbered districts, each with its own specialty (lumber, mining, agriculture, textile, grains, etc.).

Who are the lead characters?  The book’s story is told by Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old who lives in the poor, coal-mining District 12 with her mother and younger sister, Prim.  They are very poor and ever since her father died, Katniss has been responsible for taking care of the family.  She is brave and loyal and a very skilled archer, hunter, and trapper, and uses those skills to find food for her family.  She is played in the film by Jennifer Lawrence.

Peeta Mellark also lives in District 12 and is the son of a baker.  He is kind-hearted and sympathetic and admires Katniss.  He is played in the film by Josh Hutcherson.

Gale Hawthorne is two years older than Katniss and has been her friend and has taught her how to hunt and helped her feed her family.  He is very responsible but angry at their circumstances and the unfairness of the government.  He is played in the film by Liam Hemsworth.

What are the Hunger Games?  The brutal leadership of Panem operates a system something between a gladiator fight and a reality television show each year called “The Hunger Games.”  Teenage boy and girl “tributes” are selected by lottery from each of the districts.  They are taken to the capitol where they are dressed up and prepared for a fight to the death that is nationally broadcast.  Katniss and Peeta compete in the games, advised by a previous champion, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson).

What’s the deal with the bird pin?  Mockingjays are a unique hybrid species of bird in Panem.  Katniss wears a special mockingjay pin given to her by a friend from District 12 and the bird becomes a more important symbol later in the series and is the title of the final book in the series.

 

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