By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
Harry Potter has vanished and Twilight is about to take its last bite … leaving the teen/tween appetite clamoring for the next mega-franchise. Given producing studio Lionsgate’s year-long ad campaign, it’s no surprise that the hunger for The Hunger Games is nothing short of ravenous. So how goes the first course?
Let’s end the suspense here and now: The Hunger Games is highly palatable. A marvelous mix of riveting adventure, high-stakes drama, a compelling heroine (Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss), engaging visual styles and plenty of flavor from an intriguing ensemble that showcases new talent as well as veterans, The Hunger Games satisfies in a myriad of ways.
But like Katniss’ arrow, flying straight at a hapless target: I’m getting ahead of myself.
In a future world in which most of North America has been obliterated, the land of Panem still stands, governed by an insanely rich and callous totalitarian government situated in the “Capitol.” The rest of the humans reside in one of twelve enslaved districts, all of which come into sharp focus during the annual event called “The Hunger Games.” A very special Olympics of the perverse kind, the rules of the Hunger Games are as follows: Two children between 12 and 18 years of age, one girl and one boy, are selected from each district by lottery. These unfortunate 24 (called “Tributes”) are then forced to fight to the death, with the eyes of the nation glued to their televisions as they watch the Tributes’ every move. Cannons fire in disturbingly celebratory glee, announcing the death of every new victim. At the finale, the one Tribute who remains standing is declared the winner, earning fame, fortune and the right to survive. The government of the Capitol doesn’t see this as a vicious enterprise but, rather, as a perfect method in which to control its citizens.
Bringing to mind the gladiator contests of ancient Rome, Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story “The Lottery,” and the frenzied, participatory nature of the TV reality series Survivor, this film’s cautionary tale of blood sport as popular entertainment isn’t all that new. But using groups of innocent children as sacrificial pawns forces us to look at the political implications, both those of the past as well as those that could arise in the near future. The current situation in Uganda with Joseph Kony notwithstanding, high school teachers should have a field day with their students, examining the inferences of a dictatorship that employs whatever means possible to advance its goals.
But cautionary tales and politics aside, director and co-writer Gary Ross, co-writers Billy Ray and Suzanne Collins (adapting her original novel), have created a mythical sci-fi adventure that is at once harrowing and wildly entertaining. It doesn’t hurt that instead of casting some breathy ingénue in the lead role, the filmmakers made a brilliant choice with Jennifer Lawrence, whose character of Katniss is reminiscent of her indomitable Ree, who stepped up to protect her family in 2010’s Winter’s Bone (incidentally earning the actress an Oscar nod).
Playing Katniss’ partner from District 12, Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right) does a fine job as Peeta, the weaker of the two teens. While the duo attempts the grim task of surviving in the faux woods (with cameras implanted in nearly every tree), the film frequently cuts back to the doings at the Capitol, a rainbow intensive town that looks for all the world like The Wizard of Oz‘ Emerald City on LSD. As the emcee and television host of the Hunger Games’ steroidal carnival, Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman is a grotesque portrait of masochistic, egotistic delight, his stretched, freakish grin nearly splitting his face in two. Portraying a few of the Capitol’s more twisted residents, Elizabeth Banks’ ditsy, day-glo PR handler, Woody Harrelson’s dissipated prior champion and Donald Sutherland’s understated homicidal dictator are among the stand-outs.
At 142 minutes, the film could have used some judicious editing, particularly in the third act. That said, The Hunger Games gives us a great deal of bang for the buck, with much to see, to ponder or, if nothing else, to take at face value as a thrilling action sci-fi story starring a strong young female character leading the charge. Given the preponderance of disappointing blockbusters that have previously crashed and burned this year (with, in all probability, many to come), it’s refreshing to state that in this case … we can’t wait for the sequel.
Rating on a scale of 5 girls who’ve got the quivers: 4
Release date: March 23, 2012
Directed by: Gary Ross
Screenplay by: Gary Ross and Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray
Based on the YA novel: “The Hunger Games” by: Suzanne Collins
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley, Toby Jones, Lenny Kravitz
Running Time: 142 minutes