Monday, April 16, 2012

The Hunger Games: A Heroine Emerges In A Bleak Future World

Bestselling books are often adapted into movies, and fans of the novels always await the film versions of their favorites with some trepidation. The literary success of author Suzanne Collins‘ Hunger Games trilogy virtually assured there would be a movie adaptation, especially after the box office hits in the Harry Potter and Twilight film franchises. The Hunger Games is set in a post apocalyptic future, where North America is now called Panem. The country is separated into 12 districts, ruled by the rich & elite from an area known as The Capitol. As punishment for a rebellion by the districts, an annual event called The Hunger Games is held. Each district must send one boy and one girl, aged 12-18 (chosen via lottery) to participate in a contest of skill & survival. The event is televised, and only one participant can emerge the victor of the competition. To win, you must kill or be killed.

The film follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, Oscar nominated for 2010’s Winter’s Bone) as she volunteers to take the place of her younger sister in the games.  Along with Peeta Meelark (Josh Hutcherson), the boy chosen from her district, she travels to The Capitol and is prepared for the games by a previous winner, Haymitch Abernathy (well portrayed by Woody Harrleson) as well as an assortment of other advisors. The reality TV genre is pointedly satirized, as each contestant is interviewed prior to the start of the games, and competes for “sponsors,” who will provide them with supplies during the competition. There’s also a healthy amount of bets placed on the contestants during the show, based on their skills, likability and the ratings they’re given during training.

Once the competition begins, Katniss must face the fact that she may have to kill to win the day. Peeta reveals that he has feelings for her, which further complicates her decision about how to proceed. We follow her and the other contestants, as some form temporary alliances in order to survive longer, and others are killed outright. Katniss even befriends a young contestant named Rue. Those running the games also throw several extra challenges in the way of the contestants during the games. While trying to stay alive and avoid needless killing, Katniss becomes something more than a mere competitor. But her choices may have long ranging consequences.

Director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville) and cinematographer Tom Stern (with the rest of the crew) do a wonderful job creating the look of the bleak future these characters inhabit. This is an unflinching, brutal world, and little choice is left to the “have-nots” but to do what the wealthy ask of them. There’s a real emotional resonance to Katniss’ journey, captured in the excellent screenplay by Ross, Billy Ray and author Collins. Lawrence fully embodies the Katniss of the novel, and the supporting cast is perfect, including Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the TV interviewer and host of The Hunger Games, and Donald Sutherland, smoothly evil as The President.

The story has true depth & emotional resonance amidst the action elements, and there are well-drawn characters & interesting situations. While the film can’t quite capture Katniss’ inner monologue (which is such an integral & evocative part of the novel) the movie truly is an effective adaptation of the book. Jennifer Lawrence is a star to watch, and deserves all the fame the success of this film is bringing her. In fact, I also recommend Winter’s Bone, if you haven’t seen it; that film is also well worth watching, and Lawrence is excellent in it. As for The Hunger Games, there are already plans to film the second & third novels in the trilogy, and I look forward to seeing them. Even if you’re not a fan of science fiction or fantasy, I think you’ll enjoy The Hunger Games.

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