Sunday, August 26, 2012

DVD Movie: Hunger Games

The blockbuster hit, The Hunger Games, was released this past week on DVD and I took the opportunity to view it, having missed it in theatres. The movie adaptation of the first book in Suzanne Collins dystopian YA trilogy is well done and faithful to the novel of the same name.

Briefly, Panem is the new nation forged out of a terrible war. Now divided into twelve districts, every year one boy and one girl (known as tributes) are drawn from each district to battle one another to the death, for the entertainment of the residents of the Capitol, and as punishment for the rebellion of District 13. The winner receives wealth and accolades and returns to live a life of ease in their own district. The games are also a draconian reminder that all must work together to avoid another war.

Katniss and Gale meet in the woods.
District 12 is the poorest of the districts. Katniss lives there with her mother and her sister, Primrose, in abject poverty. In order to survive, Katniss has developed her wilderness survival techniques and is a crack shot archer, killing wild game (which is against the law), to supplement their meager food. She often meets Gale Hawthorne in the woods to hunt and their common interests forge a strong friendship.

When the Reaping is done in District 12, Primrose's name is chosen. Prim's terror causes Katniss to volunteer as tribute. She knows sending her younger sister to the Hunger Games is a certain death sentence. Both Katniss and Peeta Mellark, the baker's son, are to represent District 12. Taken to the Capitol to prepare and train for the games, they are helped by Haymitch Abernathy, District 12's only winner, and Cinna, a stylist. Katniss knows some of the tributes have spent their lives training for the games, but she intends to win. And key to winning is obtaining sponsors to help throughout the game. Haymitch develops a brilliant plan to help Katniss win, one she is reluctant to go along with. But Katniss knows this may be her only way to win against such great odds.

Katniss, the girl on fire!
Jennifer Lawrence is well cast as Katniss Everdeen, despite the initial reservation of many fans of the books. As the main protagonist in the story, Lawrence was able to carry the film quite well, brilliantly capturing Katniss' naivete and goodness when she first arrives in the Capitol, but also her sacrifical and rebellious tendencies. Her strong moral sense was admirably portrayed by Lawrence, making her a heroine.

Strong supporting performances were given by Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy and Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman. Tucci's performance was especially enjoyable as the well coiffed, gregarious host of the Hunger Games. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne also gave good performances.

Katniss and Peeta await their fate.
The film effectively portrayed the vast difference between District 12 and the Capitol. District 12 is deeply impoverished, in stark contrast to the wealth and modernization of the Capitol. The people dress outlandishly, act even stranger and have no understanding or concern of what life is like outside the Capitol. We see that the outlying Districts are essentially slaves working for the benefit of the Capitol.

The movie's opening is a bit slow, but that is mainly due to the presentation of the back story. Once the Reaping occurs, events progress quickly. When the games begin though, the film becomes intense; a mixture of action, suspense, and psychological thriller. Though the underlying concept of the book is quite dark and violent; children fighting children to the death for entertainment, the film was able to portray this without gratuitous violence and without being overly graphic. Deaths were often portrayed off camera, or as brief scenes that flashed by, giving the viewer a glimpse only of what was happening.

Katniss running from one of the maniuplations.
As a movie, The Hunger Games allows viewers to become spectators along with the people of Panem. We have front row seats as we watch Katniss and Peeta try to survive but we also see the sadistic behind-the-scenes manipulation of the games. We see Panem as it really is; a totalitarian society in all it's dressed up, modernized cruelty.

The Hunger Games is a refreshing adaptation of a young adult novel that actually works. There have been numerous movie adaptations of YA books that are characterized by poor script, subpar acting,; Twilight, I Am Number Four, Beastly are just a few. Perhaps the reason Hunger Games works is because Suzanne Collins is a television writer and she got it right for the movie. My only point of dissatisfaction is that I wished the relationship between Katniss and Gale was more developed. Having said that, the film does adequately suggest the close relationship between the two, prior to Katniss going off to fight in the Games.

This movie is worth purchasing and I definitely look forward to seeing Catching Fire in theatres next year, November 22, 2013!

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