Director: Gary Ross
The Hunger Games was the 2012 highly anticipated film adaptation of the first installment in the best selling trilogy of books authored by Suzanne Collins. The director, Gary Ross also wrote the screenplay with assistance from the author.
The movie begins, like the Star Wars movies, with a concise textual set up of the basic premise of the story. In a post apocalyptic dystopian version of North America called “Panem” we are 74 years after a failed rebellion against the autocratic centralized government. We are informed that the anniversary of this failed rebellion has been turned into an immense pageant and grotesque reminder of their unchallengeable power. Panem is divided into 12 districts that are required to offer a male and female “tribute” between 12 and 18 years of age in an annual “reaping”. These 24 teenagers are required to battle each other to the death in a televised spectacle until only one survivor remains. The movie progresses quickly from the “reaping” in the rural neglected district 12 where we meet our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Katniss volunteers for the Hunger Games to protect her little sister, Primrose Everdeen, played by Willow Shields, who is initially selected in the random drawing. The movie proceeds through setting up the innocent love triangle between Katniss, her love interest, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and the male tribute from District 12, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Unsurprisingly, Peeta, happens to have a crush on Katniss that she is oblivious to. We are witness to Katniss’ training where she struggles at the beginning and by the end shines as a tribute to be reckoned with finally moving to the arena where the battles takes place. The Hunger Games are contested in the rich capital city while the 11 outer districts wallow in poverty. The pomp and circumstance are designed to distract the outer districts from their hopeless circumstances and keep them from contemplating another rebellion. The Games remind them every year about the failed rebellion. We learn that the tributes from the home of the ruling elite, District 1, almost always end up winning the Hunger Games because of their far superior training. The Gamemaster, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), at the behest of the President, Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), manipulates the games to ensure that no underdog ever inspires the downtrodden districts to believe they could emerge victorious in any rebellion. When Katniss attempts to survive the games by moving as far away as possible, new dangers are artificially introduced to force her back into the violent center of conflict. After various alliances are formed and broken and the heartbreaking deaths of other tributes, we continue to cheer for the District 12 candidates.
While we feel like we’re participating in the training, hunting and demise of the “tributes” we are also privy to the hopes and dreams of some of the characters. Katniss hopes to have a life outside of her district although doesn’t want to have children to be subjected to the life she and her sister have had to endure.
It’s always a challenge for me to see a movie once I’ve read the book. The director, Gary Ross, failed to leave a significant mark on the movie for me. I didn’t notice anything particularly impressive or significantly distracting with his direction. The movie has an impressive cast headlined by Oscar winners Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss and Donald Sutherland as Coriolanus Snow. Lenny Kravitz is excellent as Cinna, the costume designer who is instrumental in elevating Katniss from anonymous Hunger Games fodder to appealing underdog. Woody Harrelson is appealing as Haymitch Abernathy, the only Hunger Games winner from District 12 who is constantly trying to drink his survivor’s guilt away but has an uncanny intuition about how to play the political angles in any situation. Josh Hutcherson (Peeta Mellark), Liam Hemsworth (Gale Hawthorne), Elizabeth Banks (Elfie Trinket) and Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane) fill out a cast that is stronger than the movie in general.
The story is enhanced by the interesting social commentary regarding economic classes and feminist empowerment. The book was able to explore these themes in more depth. The movie is action packed but the pacing drags a bit during the training sequences and the storytelling is by the numbers predictable. There are many appealing scenes for “woman hear me roar” types and men who enjoy blood and guts action. The violence is thankfully not depicted in a particularly gory manner.