MOVIE: ‘Hunger Games’ satisfies teenage emotional appetite

Revamped Battle Royale successfully captures audience with action, drama

Carissa’s take:

Every year, in a future North America, 24 teenagers are thrown into an arena and forced to fight to the death. The country of Panem, which has replaced America, is ruled by a sadistic dictator as citizens starve and struggle to survive. The odds certainly aren’t in the favor of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who must either kill or die. But Katniss is no ordinary teenage girl, so she doesn’t faint, cry or even seem all that scared. Instead, she grabs her bow and arrows, takes her mockingjay pin and gets ready for some bloodshed.

In the highly anticipated movie “The Hunger Games,” which premiered on March 23, actors Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson bring familiarity to main characters Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark in Suzanne Collins’ 2008 novel while non-stop action and drama keeps viewers engaged from beginning to end.

Tributes Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) train for the 74th annual Hunger Games, an event in which 24 teenagers are forced to fight to the death. Photo taken from Lions Gate Entertainment.

Katniss is an independent, strong-willed teenager who lives in desolate District 12, a place where people die regularly from starvation and mine explosions in a ravaged North America sometime in the future. After volunteering to save her sister Primrose (Willow Shields) from death, she, along with charismatic Peeta, are brought to the extravagant Capitol as tributes to prepare for the 74th annual Hunger Games. After the free-for-all, fight-to-the-death entertainment event, only one glorified victor — and 23 dead children — will remain.

Throughout the movie, Lawrence effectively captures the raw emotions — pain, despair and occasionally, hope — of Katniss, whether she is being torn from her family or trying to reciprocate fellow tribute Peeta’s love to win the audience’s favor and life-saving gifts. Characters like brutal tribute Cato (Alexander Ludwig) and tiny Rue (Amandla Stenberg), who were rather one-dimensional in the novel, are also portrayed in a way that makes them very human and easy to relate to. The only exception to the powerful acting performances is Katniss’ childhood friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who is usually seen with a dark, angry and hard-to-interpret look on his face that makes it difficult to empathize with him.

What readers of the trilogy will appreciate most, however, is how closely the film follows the novel. Though some minor characters and details are omitted, “The Hunger Games,” rated PG-13, does not subdue any of the violence in the arena. In fact, the film hardly deviates from the bestselling book and reflects the drama and characters’ personalities accurately, from the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale to mentor Haymitch’s (Woody Harrelson) constant state of drunkenness.

“The Hunger Games” even goes a step further by including events not mentioned in the novel. Viewers see a conversation between Gamemaker Seneca (Wes Bentley) and President Snow (Donald Sutherland), a scene of a heartbroken Gale watching Katniss fawn over Peeta in the arena and, most surprisingly, shots of an uprising in District 11 foreshadowing the second installment of the series, “Catching Fire.” While some die-hard fans may dislike any differences from the book, these scenes add new layers of dimension to a story that was shown only through the eyes of Katniss in the novel.

Both a romantic drama and a haunting warning of what our own world may become, “The Hunger Games” will have viewers on the edge of their seats and rooting for Katniss every step of the way as she runs from forest fires and saves Peeta from vicious dog-like animals. With intense action and non-stop drama, “The Hunger Games” captivates the audience and manages to avoid lulls during its entire running time of 2 hours and 22 minutes. Just be prepared for the blood that’s bound to be spilled with 24 kids fighting — and killing — for their lives.

Lisa’s take:

People were cheering every few minutes in the movie theater. I think they actually started cheering before the movie began, but it really became loud when Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) made his first appearance in the Reaping scene. The person next to me started sobbing when Rue (Amandla Stenburg) died — with tears, tissues and the occasional hiccup for the next few scenes. Someone else started giggling when Cato was eaten by strange lion-hybrid creatures.

But it’s a movie about children killing each other. People are allowed to be emotional.

The first scenes of the movie, which flash through Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) ordinary life in District 12, glosses through her relationship with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). Katniss volunteers as Tribute to the upcoming Hunger Games in place of her sister, a slightly overly-dramatic Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields), and gets whisked away to The Capitol with Peeta Mellark. It’s a relationship in which awkwardness shines through just right between the two characters on the two-hundred-miles-an-hour train ride there.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) stands beside Effie Trinklet (Elizabeth Banks) shortly after volunteering as Tribute for the Hunger Games in place of Katniss’s sister. Photo taken from Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.

The good news is that for a movie about children killing each other, the producers were able to keep the goriness to a minimal level. The bad news is that the production crew did this by constant closeups of Katniss’s face, which doesn’t really add anything after the seventh shot of her eyes.

The best part of the movie would be the lion-hybrid scene, with the animation of a gorilla’s face on a black lion’s body, and was perhaps the only scene where the fighting did not involve a shaky camera that occasionally zooms into dead grass blades.

The movie also did a fantastic job of pulling at the audience’s heartstrings. The woman who sat next to me (who previously broke down after Rue’s death), was one of the many who swooned at the abrupt love story between Katniss and Peeta, in which Katniss almost steps on his face while she runs through the forest searching for him. They kiss, and the camera flashes back to District 12, where Gale sadly watches on the big screen (oooh, love triangle!). It’s also very touching when Peeta spills on national television that he has had a crush on Katniss since forever, and afterwards she in turn attempts to kill him immediately following the interview.

Overall, the movie was able to connect with the audience — it isn’t an easy feat to make a movie about children attacking each other appeal to the teenage masses. The Hunger Games was a good read, and although the movie did slightly cut out some of the smooth transitions, it definitely did well in bringing Suzanne Collins’s book to life.

  • anon

    EXCELLENT LISA. JUST EXCELLENT.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent review Carissa!

  • hunger games fan girl

    I loved the movie, though they did cut a fair spots out, I quite enjoyed it. The love triangle was perfect, with Gale looking wistfully at the screen everytime they kissed. The gamekeeeper part was intresting, seeing how the gamekeeperes controllin the game

    • wat

      Stupid Peeta bread…Everyone of those scenes made me cringe :/

  • Almost Perfect

    The one problem I had with the movie was that they took out the bread from District 11. Some could argue the uprising or the three finger left hand raise to Katniss was equal. However Katniss had no idea that was going on, but when she got the bread she understood that District 11 was saying thank you. I felt that was very important. other than that amazing movie. I <3 Effie, and Katniss Prim and Rue and Thresh.