Forget ‘Twilight,’ ‘The Hunger Games’ is the real deal

Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth in 'The Hunger Games'
Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth in ‘The Hunger Games’

I cringed when I heard that Lionsgate was producing The Hunger Games. Not because they don’t produce good movies – I love their films —  but one in particular came to mind. It was all I could do to scream  “No! Not them! Please don’t let them turn this soon-to-be- classic story into a festival of shirtless teens and bad acting!”

Fear not, Hunger Games fans. This ain’t no Twilight.

Based on the bestselling series by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is a brutal story set in a futuristic American society called Panem. Divided into districts, the country maintains control over the districts with a yearly, televised, fight to the death event called “The Hunger Games.” Two children from each district are randomly selected as “tributes” to play to the delight of The Capital and the horror of the districts who are forced to watch their children die. Think of it as Lord of the Flies on acid.

This is the story of Katniss Everdeen, a young tribute from District 12, who takes the place of her younger sister in the Hunger Games. Played by Jennifer Lawrence, Katniss is the kind of female hero we’ve been waiting for. She’s smart, resourceful, pretty, and shoots a mean arrow. Josh Hutcherson, as Peeta Mellark, the other tribute from District 12, channels the innocent, doe-eyed boy who loves Katniss. Added into this mix is Gale, played with just enough smolder by Liam Hemsworth. As Katniss’s best friend back home, Gale is somewhat marginalized in this segment of the story, but the triangle between the three characters is quickly set up. Those small glimpses of Gale watching Katniss and Peeta fight for their lives has already kicked off the Team Gale/Team Peeta debate without any shiny glittery stuff or well-oiled chests.

ALTERNATE REVIEW: Even if you didn’t read the books, ‘The Hunger Games’ is a winner

The movie wastes no time with exposition and jumps right in on “reaping day” when Katniss and Peeta are sent to the Capital for training.  There they are primped and primed for television and for whatever awaits them in the arena. The depravity of the Capital is represented by the characters who live there. Cinna, their stylist, played by Lenny Kravitz, serves as some sort of moral voice among the whole decadent Capital bunch, while Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, is a dark Regis Philbin who interviews the tributes and presents them to the adoring crowds. Leading this whole group is President Snow, flawlessly portrayed by Donald Sutherland with just the right mix of abject evil and cold-heartedness.

Jennifer Lawrence stars in 'The Hunger Games'
Jennifer Lawrence stars in ‘The Hunger Games’

While the setup is interesting, the time in the actual arena is what is most compelling. The filmmakers worked hard at keeping this film at PG-13 and in many ways, it works well. Although the arena scenes are bloody and violent – I mean, hey, there aren’t that many ways to sugar-coat kids killing other kids – it isn’t gratuitously so. Fast editing reminiscent of the shower scene in Psycho (“Knife! Blood! Lady! Knife! Lady! Blood! Knife! Body!) give you enough of a picture of what is going on. The deaths that show the least gore actually are the most horrific. You hear the screams and then see the bodies and your heart breaks a bit.  That’s not to say this is lacking in the violence department. Make no mistake, there are some nasty bits; including a scene with wasps that might stay with you for some time, and some horrid dogs that put Cujo to shame.

Purists will no doubt bristle at the changes from page to screen, but in many ways, the film is pretty close to the original novel and the edits make sense. In fact, Katniss’ and Peeta’s mentor, Haymitch, played spot-on by Woody Harrelson, is much more likable in the film than the novel. The film also allows a glimpse into the Gamemaker world, showing the intricate structure of the games arena from a perspective not touched upon in the novels.

This is a good film with an all-star cast who delivers the goods. There are a few eye-rolling moments before Katniss and Peeta enter the arena, and Katniss doesn’t seem to have enough time to develop the relationships with the other characters necessary for you to grow attached to them before they are killed off, but it’s forgivable. This film was fast and gripping. At two hours and twenty minutes it is on the longer side, but you will not feel it. It will have you cheering.

With Harry Potter over and the Twilight Saga winding down, The Hunger Games is definitely the new franchise to watch.  Provided the filmmakers stick to the same formula they used for this first film, The Hunger Games will definitely be the movies everyone will be waiting for.

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