Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Hunger Games

Reviewing a blockbuster like The Hunger Games seems a little unnecessary, especially a couple weeks after its release.  By now, half the country has seen it and the hype/love for the books made it review proof anyway (and the reviews are good).  Still, at least one person asked me to cover it and I can't disappoint my followers...all 5 of them.

The nation of Panem is divided into 12 Districts and a wealthy Capitol...said districts are mostly poor and subjected after some rebellion gone wrong.  The movie never seems to indicate if this world is actually ours (I'm told the books do reveal it to be our apocalyptic future), but the parable to big government & poorer outliers is obvious.  Every year, each district randomly selects a teenage boy or girl to be a contestant in a brutal reality game show known as the Hunger Games, a fight to the death where only one child can win.  The games seem more or less fixed for a couple districts to typically win, but the sense of hope for other districts keeps them in line and watching religiously.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), from the poorest District 12, becomes one of these "tributes" after volunteering in place of her sister.  She is quickly whisked to the Capitol and swept up in the showmanship of the Hunger to fight, learning more about the political/commercial aspects of the game and making an entrance that dazzles the audience.

The "game" itself consumes the latter half of the movie and shows the brutal horror of what's happened to this nation and how its citizens allow such atrocities.  Katniss is very skilled at hunting and survival but she gets some help along the way.

Ably directed by Gary Ross, Hunger Games feels briskly paced despite a nearly 2 1/2 hour running time.  Once the game begins, the violence isn't overly bloody by Hollywood standards, but rough & shocking enough to drive the story.  Lawrence initially feels a little too "pretty" to be downtrodden Katniss but quickly grows into the role as the film progresses.

Overall, Hunger Games left me wanting...mostly to read the books and/or see the next two films.  There seems to be a lot more happening in Panem than we are privy to in this glimpse and that's the stuff I'm fascinated by.  A populace so defeated and discouraged that they not only accept a deathmatch fought by children but eagerly watch it year after year.  When one particular Tribute dies their home district riots, a brief sequence that hints at more socio-political strife to come.  The final outcome would seem to indicate that future division is certain.

The obvious commentary in all of this is our own obsession with reality TV, the horrors of war and watching others suffer.  Is it really too difficult to believe that we could end up in this world?  Would we be able to turn off our TVs or turn away?  Corporate sponsorship & viewer popularity already determine so much of what we see and experience.

While The Hunger Games isn't necessarily original or even surprising (most of the outcome isn't unexpected), it is exciting and intriguing for where the story goes next.

Rating:  B

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