May the odds be ever in your favor. Odds are, if that means anything to you at all, then this review is totally irrelevant – you’re going to see The Hunger Games. As well you should. It’s good. It’s not “oh my gosh – this is, like, the best movie ever” good. But it does serve the book and its fans quite well. In case you’re unfamiliar, the movie is based on the first book of a young-adult, adventure science fiction trilogy by Suzanne Collins. That means we can expect at least two (or if the studios take a page from Potter and Twilight, at least three) more installments of what’s sure to be a gazillion-dollar franchise.
The premise is admittedly bizarre. Every year, a teenage boy and girl from the 12 districts of Panem are sent to the Capitol to compete in a nationally televised, fight-to-the-death competition known as The Hunger Games. The Games were created as punishment for an uprising against the Capital decades earlier – and perpetuated as a way to keep the districts in line. Think of the 12 Districts as home to the 99 percent. The Capitol houses the 1 percent.
The Games’ participants, known as Tributes, must fight one another until one survivor remains. And just like Texas with the Miss America pageant, some tributes are better prepped than others for the competition.
The heroine of The Hunger Games is Katniss Evergreen, played with an impressive mix of fear, stoicism, sarcasm, bravery and cunning by the very talented Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone). Katniss volunteers for the brutal competition in order to spare her little sister Prim – so you can’t help but root for her from the get-go. But these games aren’t just about winning. They’re about the lines we draw – and the lines we cross – in an effort to survive, and our willingness or reluctance to challenge the status quo. The books and the movie are tinged with themes of war, politics, morality, ethics, desensitization to violence and absurdity, and the role of reality television in feeding the frenzy. It’s also just good storytelling/drama.
Here’s the rub: I loved the first book (“The Hunger Games”), liked the second one (“Catching Fire”) and was less than satisfied with the third (“Mockingjay”). So I’m a bit concerned with how it might all play out in the end. But first thing’s first…
The Hunger Games movie is well cast and beautifully shot. I had some trouble warming up to Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right) as Katniss’s fellow tribute and potential ally/love interest Peeta. But he grew on me as the movie progressed. And I definitely look forward to seeing more of the hunky Liam Hemsworth (The Last Song) as Katniss’s long-time friend, hunting partner and potential love interest Gale. Other casting coups of note: Stanley Tucci as the colorful emcee of the Games, Elizabeth Banks as the flaky tribute chaperone Effie Trinket, and Woody Harrelson as drunken mentor Haymitch Abernathy. They add a strong shot of color and humor to the twisted proceedings.
Parents, be forewarned however. This movie is PG-13. Kids do kill kids. The violence is tempered with quick cuts and montages, but it’s still the stuff of nightmares. That said, if you’ve read the books, you’re going to see the movies. It’s really as simple as that. I highly recommend reading the trilogy beforehand to help plug in holes in character development and recognize the bits of foreshadowing. But reading the books is not mandatory. The Hunger Games can still hold its own for the general audience – including those adults who don’t want to be caught reading “teen lit” and still don’t ‘get’ the whole Twilight thing.
Bottom line: The odds will ever be in favor of this trilogy meeting hyper-expectations and selling oodles of tickets over the next few years. And did I mention that Taylor Swift is on the soundtrack? Cue the record sales. The book sales. And the box office.
Normally, I’d embed the trailer below. But the studios must have blocked the embedding option in their efforts to fan the flames of anticipation. Oh well. You can see it on YouTube if you’re really desperate. http://youtu.be/RNxb28j5C1w
In the meantime, in the spirit of rebellion, I offer this up instead: