Movie Review: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games: Rated PG-13 – Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth.

Directed by Gary Ross. Opens March 23, 2012.

 Let me start by saying that I read the entire Hunger Games trilogy in about five minutes. Well – maybe 10. Written for the tween/teen age set (Scholastic recommends the series for ages 12 and up), many of my adult friends devoured each book and passed along their dog-earred, tattered copies to others while they read the next one in the series as feverishly as I did.

When my ten-year-old son asked to read The Hunger Games, I let him….despite the pretty unsettling premise of the book (12 poverty-stricken “districts” (cities in a postapocalyptic  world) select two 12-18 year-olds, a girl and a boy, to serve as tributes in an annual event (Survivor reality show-style) where they fight to the death to the delight of the privilaged people who reside in the Capitol.)

Suzanne Collins wrote the books without use of profanity, there isn’t any excessive sexuality and (odd for the fact that you know going in to it that 23 people will “probably” die) the book does not “dwell” on the violence.  We actually had a couple of really cool conversations about abuse of power and how someone can stand up against what is wrong, even if they are young they can make a difference and that hope in a grime situation is pretty powerful.

And Thursday night, together, we went to the press screening. And I don’t regret my decision to take him.

Our verdict of the movie? They did well.

I had high expectations for this film and I didn’t walk away disappointed. As with any film  that comes out with this much hype, there are always going to be a  couple of misses. And I’ll get to those.

But first, the best…..

Those who read the book will be happy that the events in the movie were pretty spot-on to the book. But even if you go see the film without first reading the story I believe you will both enjoy and understand it fully. With that said, I do think you’ll want to go home and read the book directly after you see the film.

I loved the way the capitol’s extravagance, exploitation and decadence was displayed through clothing (look for this movie to come home a winner in costume design during awards season) and characters such as a Effie Trinket (played by Elizabeth Banks) and Emcee Caesar Flickerman, played by Stanley Tucci (I just love his sparkly blue suit and wig and his big, fake teeth!). The contrast of the bright colors and over-done make-up on Capitol dwellers to the drabness of the clothing worn by those in the districts speaks volumes.

The settings were perfect. Again, the drabness of the districts showed the distress and poverty and the futuristic Capitol punctuated the abuse of the power and the descrepency between the haves and have-nots.

Character-wise – Jennifer Lawrence carried this film to the top….a great choice to play Katniss. Her ability to portray both the character’s toughness and tenderness was impressive. (Spoiler-alert) The scene where Katniss lays ally tribute Rue to rest, a very pivotal and emotional point in the film, was very well done. (Lots of tears shed from movie goers during this scene.)

Haymitch, District 12‘s mentor, was not a likeable character in the book but I found myself drawn to him in the movie. Played by Woody Harrelson, he was very kind to Katniss and Peeta, and at times even funny. Even with flask in hand, Harrelson didn’t seem to be the out-of-control, former Games winner depicted in the book.

Now, the not-so hot…..

The beginning of the film, which showed District 12 getting ready for the reaping (the day when the two people are selected each year for the Games) was shot in that artsy-fartsy “close-up and lots of camera movement” way that film critics love but just made me dizzy. I know it was meant to make the audience feel the chaos of the district and the distress of the day itself, but I was afraid if it continued, I’d have to ask my friend Stacey who was sitting by me for a peppermint to ease my queasy stomach.

Thankfully (spoiler alert) once Katniss volunteered to take her sister’s Prim’s place (who was initially selected) and got on the train to the capitol they widened up the camera angle and the jiggling settled down.

Cinna, District 12‘s appointed clothing designer for the Games and the pomp and circumstance that took place beforehand was played by Lenny Kravitz. This good guy from the Capitol was a favorite character of mine in the book and I liked him in the movie but his presence wasn’t as significant which disappointed me. And when he first met Katniss in the film I thought he went in for a hug with a little too much “I don’t just like you, I like-like you” zeal. I was so glad they didn’t go there!

I wasn’t  really impressed with Sienca Crane’s, the Gamemaker, performance. He didn’t appear menancing, even with his crazy beard and while I know he was supposed to be a flawed character, his performance for me was just luke warm throughout the entire film.

Donald Sutherland on the other hand, cast in the role of President Snow, made only brief appearances in this film but each time his quiet and calm  demeanor made me shiver. He’s all over the second book and so I look forward to his performance in the next movie (word on the street is that it is due to come out fall 2013… a long time to wait!)

Make no mistake. This film is violent. While some deaths are not shown or shot from a distance, some scenes are intense and a few disturbing. If you are taking some younger folks to the show, some head-turning points that I remember best are:

1. Before the Games when Katniss watched past Games footage in her hotel room.

2. At the beginning of the Games when several tributes are killed at once.

3. The death during the bee scene.

4. At the end of the Games.

But the important point to remember here is that there aren’t any real winners in the arena. There’s no evil vs. good war going on in the field, it’s in the Capitol and on the streets of the districts.  Each player is scared (even the career tributes from the more privilaged districts) and doesn’t really want to be there. And each player killed is a loss that is grieved. This movie does NOT glorify death nor does it encourage killing.

My son, who loved the book, said the movie was great but that is was “scary” (seeing the concept come to life).

Should you take your 10 or 11-year old? While I certainly stand by my decision to take mine…it’s a good one to make for yourself based on your child’s ability (and desire) to digest a story like this. There is a lot to be learned here and great opportunity for parents to have meaningful discussions with their tweens, but not worth the price if your child is not ready emotionally for a concept like this.

Should you go? Yes! And then come back here and tell me what you thought!

Disclaimer: I was given the opportunity to review this movie by attending a complimentary press screening. No other compensation was received and all thoughts and opinions are my own. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. 1
    Stephanie says:

    great review, I am so looking forward to this movie. I don’t like the jumpy camera either, but everyone else must, because it’s employed in so many films, think Bourne. I am really looking forward to seeing the Capital, nice to hear they did the book justice.

  2. 2
    Edgard says:

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  3. 3
    Karen says:

    I have never been so impressed with how well a movie for tweens has been done. I did not read the books but Kaitlyn has…..twice. We can not keep our children in a plastic bubble as much as we’d like. This movie handled racism, socialism, and inequality among people with stunning grace and compassion. It started a wonderful conversation with Kaitlyn about compassion and arrogance and treating your fellow man as your equal, regardless of their wealth, color of their skin or education. And our children today need that now more than ever. I would see this movie again and again and will let Kaitlyn see it again and again and this from a mom that banned Spongebob until 3 years ago

  4. 4
    Maryellen says:

    Great review!!! Couldn’t agree more!!

  5. 5

    Great review! I haven’t seen it because I haven’t read the books yet, but they’re in my TBR! I have heard great things about both the books and the movie, which makes me want to read them even more!

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