The Hunger Games
is Worth the Hype
Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, left) and Katniss
Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) just after Katniss volunteers to represent
District 12 in the Hunger Games.
"Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!”
So trumpets a pink-haired and freakishly face-painted Effie Trinket (a nearly unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks) to the stone-faced citizens of District 12 shortly before drawing the names for that year's Hunger Games. This scene at the beginning of the movie sets the tone for 'The Hunger Games' – an attempt by a malevolent government and clueless upper class to get folks to buy the biggest media spin ever, that only by sacrificing their children they may remain in peace.
The Hunger Games is the first in a trilogy books written by Suzanne Collins. Set in a future, post-apocalyptic America called Panem, which has been divided into twelve completely different 'districts' that rarely have contact with one another and increase in levels of poverty as the number goes up. The Districts are presided over by a glittery rich dreamscape of a city called The Capitol, whose control obsessed leader – President Snow (Donald Sutherland) – has determined that the only way to keep the districts from uprising is to force each to send a boy and girl each year to fight to the death in the ultimate reality show – The Hunger Games.
But what sets The Hunger Games apart from other futuristic gladiator-type movies is the fact that the hero is a heroine. Katniss Everdeen is a sixteen-year-old girl from the poorest district of all – 12 (set in the Appalachian coal-mining region) – and has been forced to hunt to feed her mother and sister since her father perished in a mine cave-in when she was 11. When her sister, Primrose (Willow Shields) gets picked as 'tribute' for District 12 despite the fact that she is only 12 years old and it's her first year of eligibility, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She then leaves behind all she has ever known - including her lifelong 'friend' Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) - to enter a world completely alien to her where her every move is televised to the greedy, vapid, beauty-obsessed and fickle audience of the Capitol.
It is within the multi-colored streets of the Capitol that many see a comparison with our own society - shallow obsessions with outer beauty and reality television, and, of course, wealth versus poverty. Katniss' utter disdain over the surreality of how all the 'tributes' (contestants) are wined and dined, dressed up and interviewed prior to the Games' beginning is what makes the movie – and actress Jennifer Lawrence plays it perfectly. Her defiance against the Games' overlords is convincing, as is the vulnerability of her otherwise stoic composure – when it her carefully composed strength slips, it looks natural.
And her supporting cast isn't bad, either. Woody Harrelson nails his role as Haymitch Abernathy – the only other living victor from District 12 who is forced to mentor Katniss and her co-tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), on how to survive despite being drunk and disgusted with the entire process. It is he that engineers the idea that will both defy the Capitol and give them a chance at surviving the Games – to sell them as a love-crossed couple who are heart-broken over the idea that they must fight each other in the arena.
Wes Bentley also does an outstanding job as the Head Gamemaker, Seneca Crane – in charge of those who engineer how the game is played out – by convincingly portraying the dichotomy of his character. Despite having the most inhumane of jobs, his humanity comes across.
The Hunger Games is 2 hours and 22 minutes long, which felt all of 20 minutes as we sat in a packed Beach Theater on Tuesday night. Thanks to Director Gary Ross' seamless flow, even the kids in the audience remained transfixed throughout the entire picture - I expected it to be good, but this amazing and I hope he does the while trilogy. To top it off, being waited on by Manager Karin Cook's flawless staff who – despite having to pick their way around in the dark – never failed to refill a drink or deliver us exactly what we asked for ensured that our family night out to see The Hunger Games was the highlight of the week. Highly recommended!