If you haven’t read the book, you can still enjoy the movie, since it’s pretty much all up there. It is set in an alternate world/dystopian future, where the USA has been replaced by an authoritarian central government . Seventy-four years ago, the “Capitol” ruthlessly put down a rebellion by the thirteen “districts”, and, since then, has underscored its tyrannous power by annually exacting two twelve-eighteen year-olds as “tributes” to fight to the death in the so-called “Hunger Games.”
The Hunger Games draw of course from the ancient myth of the Minotaur, with Athens’ tribute of maidens and young men to Crete; from the gladiatorial games of Rome; and a healthy dose of modern “reality TV” complete with sponsors and audience participation.
The film is unsparing in depicting the Depression-era downtrodden-ness of hardscrabble District 12, home of protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), and comparing it with the futuristic Capitol. When Games “Escort” Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) appears for annual lottery, her garish makeup and over-the-top costume is so shocking that her mere presence is menacing—as though a female version of The Joker had shown up to menace a village of 1930’s coal miners. The film also takes an effective low-key approach which actually punches up the often gut-wrenching emotions. That the District people stand in bitter silence while their children are taken away to die is far more effective than any crowd muttering or musical stings could be.
For the Capitol, the Hunger Games are a joyous festival, and, except for the few people directly involved in running the games, we only see the citizens as a mass audience, approving of what they are shown, oooh-ing, and ahh-ing over costumes, or clever remarks in the obligatory interviews. Only in once sequence, the playback of a prior, brutal “victory” do we get a hint of the potential underlying bloodlust. Otherwise, we see only the smug satisfaction of the Gamesmakers as they control the Games. Stanley Tucci, as Games host Caesar Flickerman, gives a remarkable performance, sometimes seeming human, and sometimes a caricature out of something like the “Judge Dredd” comics.
The long sequence of the actual Games is well done. There is generally a restrained approach to combat, with most of the deaths taking place off camera, and minimal gore. The necessary ones are handled sensitively. We remarked that very seldom in the conventional action/adventure movie is the hero given the time or inclination to weep for a fallen comrade, but, in this context, it happens, and is the right thing.
Casting and acting are of a uniformly high standard: beside those already mentioned, Josh Hutcherson looks just as I’d pictured Peeta Mellark, and is excellent in the role. Woody Harrelson grew on me in the role of Haymich, whom I had pictured as older and craggier: in fact, (as we learn in the second book) Haymitch was the victor of the 50th Hunger Games and therefore can’t be older than 43. Thus, Harrelson looks the right age—another instance of the moviemaker’s attention to detail.
I’m not going to say that this movie is for everyone: a bunch of nice-looking young people get killed in nasty ways, and not just for being stupid or in the wrong place, as in the average slasher film, so there’s genuine pathos and tension. (On the other hand, no sex, and no bad language--.) Otherwise, if the subject matter interests you at all, I predict that you will not be disappointed.
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