STARS: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks
DIRECTOR: Gary Ross
GENRE: Drama, Action-Adventure, Sci-fi
Normally, I wouldn't lower myself to see a film aimed at 15 year-old girls, but I wanted to see for myself if all the hype and the hoopla surrounding The Hunger Games--the screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins' best-selling teen novel--was justified. I didn't read the book, but in my book, a movie should stand (or stagger) on its own merits anyway.
The brief synopsis: In the dystopian future kingdom of Paner, a yearly "special" Olympics--of sorts--has been devised, which pits twenty-four young people between the ages of twelve and eighteen against each other in a battle to the death. Only one of them will come out alive and be declared the winner. (This person gets that stupid looking Mirabal Trophy from Dancing With The Stars ...NOT!.) The games serve as an ongoing punishment (and a way of keeping the uppities in their place) to the twelve outlying districts of the kingdom for an uprising against the all powerful central government, headed by President Snow (Donald Sutherland). Each district must cough up one male and one female gladiator to compete in the televised gore fest, which employs low-tech weaponry with blades, or bows and arrows, to maximize the up close and personal aspect of the killing.
Our heroine, from District 12--which appears to be the poorest and most downtrodden of the suburbs--is the brave and resourceful Katniss Everdeen, played with effectiveness by Jennifer Lawrence, (Winter's Bone) as the blue-eyed Everygirl who rises to the challenge when it's do or die. Her saving grace is that she's a crack shot with a bow and arrow. And she's our hero because, unlike those other crass kids who just want to survive, she only kills in self defense--when there is no other way out. (Back home, I noticed, she's not as compassionate--she goes deer hunting, and likes to shoot other types of small defenseless furry creatures betwixt the eyes.)
Alliances form among the contestants (like in Survivor, or Big Brother) and Katniss and her male counterpart from District 12, Peeta Mellark, (Josh Hutcherson) are there for each other. Will they make it to the end? Will romance bloom amidst the pervasive carnage? And what of the rule that only one teen must survive?
The first half of The Hunger Games drags, as it's partly exposition, and then the mental and physical preparation the kids must undergo to give themselves a fighting chance. I could sense the mostly teen audience at the showing I attended chomping at the bit like the ancient Romans in the Colosseum--because, let's face it, the video games and comic books they are into are mostly violent in nature.
The second half of the movie gave them their fix.
Woody Harrelson brings a touch of levity to the grisly proceedings as the drunken sot "mentor" to Katniss and Peeta, (gotta love those names) who dispenses mostly thanks-but-no-thanks advice on their upcoming ordeal.
Oh, and you've got to see the most MENACING looking beard in the history of filmdom--sported by Wes Bentley, as the organizer of the games. The sharp-edged design of it--as if he were wearing cutlery on his cheeks--is so heavy handed that it's funny, and it brings me to a pet-peeve about sci-fi films. You know, when the space ships that the invading aliens are traveling in are designed to look like nasty, evil creatures themselves--so there's no second guessing for us as to what they're all about. But I don't think the aliens would advertise their nastiness in such a blatantly obvious manner. In reality, evil often comes in the guise of a beautiful woman-- like a Casey Anthony--or that mass murderer in Norway with the movie star good looks.
And while the dystopian image of a future world--the one depicted in The Hunger Games--seems heartless and cold, that same world exists today. And has existed among our species since pretty near the beginning. A world where innocents--who have no personal reason to hate their adversaries because they've never even met them--are pitted against each other in a kill-or-be-killed spectacle coordinated by governments. Often for no better reason than to gain some strategic political advantage in the world.
It's called war.
Grade: C +