‘Hunger Games’ makes softer transition to movie screen


Don’t let the fact that The Hun­ger Games is mar­keted to­ward the same teenybop­per crowd as a cer­tain vam­pire/were­wolf movie that en­cour­ages view­ers to pick a “Team” dis­suade you from check­ing it out.

Still, its PG-13 di­lu­tion of some of the book’s most im­port­ant parts gives some reas­on for pause. Es­sen­tially, The Hun­ger Games is a tale of kids killing kids and eas­ily could have been an R-rated movie, but dir­ect­or Gary Ross (Pleas­antville, Seabis­cuit) had to work with a PG-13 rat­ing much to the story’s det­ri­ment. The shaky-cam ac­tion scenes help to di­lute the vi­ol­ence and soften the deaths of the chil­dren.

Based on the best-selling nov­el by Su­z­anne Collins, The Hun­ger Games takes place in the post-apo­ca­lyptic land of Pan­em (formerly North Amer­ica), a dysto­pi­an so­ci­ety with a to­tal­it­ari­an gov­ern­ment. As part of the pun­ish­ment for the re­bel­lion, cit­izens of the 12 dis­tricts live in poverty and are forced to par­ti­cip­ate in the an­nu­al Hun­ger Games, in which 24 “trib­utes” (one boy and one girl from each dis­trict, between 12 and 17 years of age) are ran­domly se­lec­ted and shipped off to The Cap­it­ol, where only one will re­turn home vic­tori­ous.

The oth­er 23 will die — either at the hands of nature or of their fel­low trib­utes.

On the day of the reap­ing (a ce­re­mony where the names are drawn), young Prim­rose Ever­deen’s (Wil­low Shields) name is se­lec­ted for the girls. Un­able to stand the thought of her sweet, in­no­cent little sis­ter fa­cing death, big sis Kat­n­iss (Jen­nifer Lawrence) vo­lun­teers to take her place.

For the boy from Dis­trict 12, the se­lec­tion is a baker’s son named Peeta Mel­lark (Josh Hutcher­son). As it turns out, Peeta’s been har­bor­ing a secret crush on Kat­n­iss, who un­til this point hadn’t giv­en him a second look since the time he kindly threw her some bread one day. Seems Kat­n­iss has some un­re­solved feel­ings for the swoon-worthy Gale (Liam Hems­worth), a boy at home whom she goes hunt­ing with.

The ac­tu­al “games” make up about half of the movie, and while there are some in­con­sist­en­cies and plot holes, it ba­sic­ally sticks close to the book. The sup­port­ing roles played by Eliza­beth Banks, Lenny Krav­itz, Woody Har­rel­son and Stan­ley Tucci ad­ded a great bit of col­or to the story.

Lawrence does a great job as the heroine Kat­n­iss. Truth be told, this is the same type of role that brought the act­ress her first Oscar nom­in­a­tion (as Ree in Winter’s Bone) at the ripe young age of 20. It’s clear that Kat­n­iss is go­ing to sur­vive (she’s the star of two more books, after all), but watch­ing Lawrence get her there was al­ways en­ter­tain­ing.

Hutcher­son (most known to me as the kid from Bridge to Ter­abith­ia) is likable, though I wouldn’t quite call him “dreamy.”

At close to two and a half hours, the movie is a bit on the long side, yet some book pur­ists may still be dis­sat­is­fied that some things were left out. One thing I found odd was that the movie down­played the hun­ger as­pect. Not once did I feel any­one (either in the dis­tricts or the kids in the games) was on the brink of star­va­tion.

The Hun­ger Games is not just a movie for teen­age girls, a la Twi­light. Its por­tray­al of a dysto­pi­an so­ci­ety has the po­ten­tial for lots of so­cial com­ment­ary. An­oth­er plus, it’s quite light on the love-tri­angle story, and I re­fuse to de­clare my­self as “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta,” no mat­ter how much it is sug­ges­ted I should do so. ••

Movie Grade: B+


You can reach at shorbrook@bsmphilly.com.

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