Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Genre: Action, Drama, Sci/Fi
Run Time: 2 hours, 22 minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci, Wes
Bentley, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland
Directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit)
One of the most anticipated movies of 2012, The Hunger Games has finally arrived. This film is part one of a planned trilogy, based on the best-selling books of the same name by author Suzanne Collins. Set in a bleak and cynical future, this film exists mainly to set up the next two, but is deeply compelling and entertaining enough to make sure that we stick around.
In an unspecified future, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) rules over the wealthy Capitol, which is surrounded by 12 impoverished districts. Many years ago, a rebellion was launched against the Capitol by the districts, and was squelched. As a penalty and a reminder for future generations, each district would have to put forth a sacrifice of one boy and girl annually to compete in a fight to the death, where only one child would emerge victorious from all of the districts with their life. The children are unleashed into a massive arena full of forests, rivers and open land and told to kill the others. Cameras capture their every move, and it is broadcast as sport to the denizens of the Capitol. This competition is called “The Hunger Games.”
As the film starts, we are on the brink of the 74th Annual Hunger Games. The wealthy citizens of the Capitol view the games with a gladiatorial blood-lust, and a numbing disconnect from the fact that this sport involves real people.
In District 12, there is panic amongst the young as they nervously anticipate who will be selected for the games from their district. Jennifer Lawrence plays the film’s central character, Katniss Everdeen, a poor girl who volunteers for the games in order to save her sister from getting picked. She is an independent spirit and a skilled hunter, who leaves her sister and mother behind to compete on behalf of her district. The boy chosen is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has had a crush on Katniss and had once given the poor girl some food from his parents’ bakery.
The Hunger Games creates a creepy post-apocalyptic future that is as strange as a Tim Burton movie, and as detailed as a Harry Potter novel. The clueless, entitled rich people of the Capitol dress in bright colors and eccentric garb, as if fashioned by Willy Wonka or Dr. Seuss. We are introduced to a cast of characters from both the Capitol and Katniss’ home district.
These characters include Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a drunken former-winner of the Hunger Games who acts as mentor to Katniss. Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) is the TV director for the Capitol, and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) is the TV host who introduces the contestants to his viewing audience.
On its own, The Hunger Games is an unevenly paced first chapter, that isn’t a complete movie. At times it seems a bit long, and other scenes seemed to rush by. It gets a free pass this time, knowing that there are other chapters to follow, but still, there are a lot of build-up in this film with little pay-off.
The first hour introduces us to the world of Katniss and the Capitol, and also spends some time explaining the rules of the game. It also contains a too-long training sequence as Katniss and the others prepare themselves for battle.
Once the game begins, it is an effective action-thriller that echoes movies like The Running Man and Battle Royale, and even reminds us of films like The Truman Show. Jennifer Lawrence is such a great actress, that she probably delivers more depth than is even required of the role. Still, she is what makes The Hunger Games connect.
While the film is mainly an action vehicle, it does have a romance at its core. It also gives sneaky social commentary that is relevant to today’s society, as the middle class continues to disappear, and the rich keep getting richer.
Any fans of sci-fi will love the world that is created here, and I would expect fans of the book to be pleased that the core characters and story were kept in place. Most movies fail to capture the depth of the novel in which they are based, so some fans may not like how some of the characters and sequences are rushed in and out in the blink of an eye.
You’ll have to wait until November of 2013 for the second chapter of The Hunger Games to hit theaters. But this effective if over-stuffed beginning should be more than enough to make Catching Fire one of the most eagerly anticipated films of next year.
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