“The Hunger Games”
By MICHAEL WALTERS
“The Hunger Games” books are a teen lit trilogy with aspirations higher than the self-absorbed moping of teen girls, and the dreamy moping gazes of sparkling vampires. It’s one young adult book adaptation I can get behind and fully embrace because the movie is actually as good as some of the die hard fans think it is.
A post-apocalyptic “Running Man” crossed with “Survivor” with a heavy dose of meta-commentary on our current reality TV obsessed culture
Sometime in the future in what’s left of North America, a rich, powerful and oppressive Capitol rules the land. Twelve satellite districts live powerless in its shadow. As punishment for a decades old rebellion – the Capitol chooses one teenage boy and one teenage girl from each district to compete in a reality television competition to the death known as “The Hunger Games.”
Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss — a self reliant girl from District 12 who knows her way around a bow and arrow and hunts her own game illegally to help support her family. When her far more helpless younger sister is chosen in the drawing for “The Hunger Games” she volunteers to take her place.
Each “Tribute” as they’re known, is groomed into an easily identifiable character. They arrive in a sort of awe inspiring parade representative of a morbid bloodthirsty Olympics where the brutal nature of competition lurks just barely below the pomp and circumstance. But there’s more than brute force at work. Popularity also gives the tributes an advantage, because much like contestants on “American Idol,” the public’s votes can save them and provide all sorts of extra perks to get one out of a jam.
For a movie about two dozen teens fighting it out to the death, the violence is more sanitized than you might expect. I found it’s more implied than explicitly shown, and while that may help the PG-13 rating, you have to wonder what a more visually inventive, and depraved director might have done with it.
Author and screenwriter Suzanne Collins does little to mask the mechanics moving the action forward behind the scenes and the film is a little clumsily plotted at times. But she’s got the guts of a good story here and one that lends itself to cinema quite well.
It helps that “The Hunger Games” is stocked with acting ringers like Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Banks, and a delightful Woody Harrelson as Lawrence’s mostly drunken mentor Haymitch, the only tribute from district 12 to ever win the Hunger Games. It also helps that the dead eyed stare of that vortex of suckitude Kristin Stewart is nowhere to be found.
It’s not high art by any means, but I count it as refreshing to see an immensely popular blockbuster with more on its mind than just killing time.