Do you hunger for this movie? You know, the trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins, leading to this eagerly awaited first film? Oh, so you are not a 14 year old girl? Oh well, then you might not be into all the hype.
I’m not either – I never even heard of the books until a few months ago as the publicity started for this movie. Here’s the crash course – the setting is what’s left of the country sometime in the future after the some apocalyptic civil war has laid waste to most everything. It’s called “Panem” where the wealthy ruling class is safely ensconced in the “Capitol”. Wait to you get a load of their outfits – it’s like “Mardi Gras”. Meanwhile, the underclass lives in 12 geographic regions or “districts”. The “Hunger Games” are an annual event where kids, anywhere from 12 to 18 years old, one male and one female from each district fight to the death. There’s only one winner – it’s sort of a yearly “death Olympics”. And it’s all televised.
It’s not so much that the “games” draw a huge audience, it more about the elites making sure the riffraff gets the message that revolts are nasty, so stay in your place or we will kill you all. The President is played by Donald Sutherland, looking like a founding father, but overseeing all of this like a crafty, evil strategist. His henchman, played by Wes Bentley, is assigned to the day to day details of the games, but he’s on a short leash.
The TV host for this grand spectacle is played by Stanley Tucci and it’s a production that actually brilliantly weaves in elements of “Survivor”, “American Idol” and even a bit of “Oprah” – it’s the ultimate competitive reality show. The technology is all there – because while it appears our “contestants” are out some where in the vast wilderness (North Carolina it turns out), their every move is watched back in what looks like a super NASA control room. Things can change in a moment at the whim of the producers.
But the heart of this story belongs to two of our death match heroes. Both from District 12 (the poorest of the poor, where the people coal mine and hunt to survive), they are Katniss, the female, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and the male, Peeta, played by Josh Hutcherson. Katniss bravely steps forward to replace her sister in the lottery drawing to determine who has to compete, and that sets the stage for you to root for her. And you will – it’s a nice performance by Lawrence, who looks perfectly confident and then scared to death at just the right times. Oh, and Woody Harrelson plays their “advisor”, a past games winner from District 12 who now mostly drinks, but who will come around.
The good news is while there is somewhat compelling love story between these two, it doesn’t have to carry this well made film, which even though I didn’t touch the book, I could clearly see they had to cut some corners to fit it all in. There’s also a “Twilight” thing in here as Katniss may be into Peeta, but there’s another guy back in District 12 who she also has eyes for – stay tuned for movie number 2 for more on that.
With just the right amount of bloody action and sweet moments, “The Hunger Games” deserves to score big, with fans of the book as well as newcomers. I might have gone higher here, but there were a few too many maudlin moments and plot conveniences. After all, I’m not a 14 year old. I give it an “8”.