The Hunger Games is the first novel in a trilogy by author Suzanne Collins. It was a breakout novel when first published and to give a better idea of its success and of the rest of the trilogy, Ms Collins was recently feted as being the best-selling Kindle author of all time.
With that kind of success, a film adaptation becomes almost mandatory and that brings us The Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville and Seabiscuit), who is credited with writing the adaptation for screen along with Ms Collins and Billy Ray.
Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class, Winter’s Bone) is Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old girl who lives in the 12th District of “Panem,” a futuristic nation that long ago was nearly torn apart by rebellion. The rebellion was put down and to keep the history of what happened alive, each of the 12 surviving districts must offer up two children, a boy and a girl, as “tributes” each year. The 24 tributes compete in the Hunger Games which is watched by the entire nation on television. The games are a fight to the death and the upcoming games will be the 74thannual Hunger Games.
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Katniss lives with her mother and young sister Primrose (Willow Shields) and life is not great. Katniss must hunt for most of the family’s food, and her father is long-dead from a mining accident. This year’s Hunger Games are the first in which Prim, as Katniss calls her, is eligible to be selected as tribute. When Prim’s name is pulled from the bowl, Katniss offers herself up in her sister’s place as tribute.
The other tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who has history with Katniss that is revealed as the film progresses. Katniss is given a moment to say goodbye to her family, and to her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), who tells her she has the skills to survive and win the Games.
The 24 tributes are brought to the lavish, lush capitol city where they are feted and trained for four days. The capitol, unlike the rest of the nation, is beautiful and a land of bounty, while the 12 districts that support it appear to live in continual want of food and anything else that makes life more than just a daily struggle to survive.
Katniss and Peeta have a mentor in Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a past winner of the games. Each year’s victor is celebrated and showered with wealth and food and it is up to Haymitch to help his charges learn how to acquire sponsors who help with much needed items during the games. Also on the side of Katniss is Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), a stylist who also dispenses some much needed wisdom.
The games themselves are simple. Held in the wild, the 24 tributes are simultaneously raised on platforms onto the field of battle, with a large cache of weapons and supplies just waiting close by. Haymitch warns that the initial moments of the games will be a bloodbath, as the tributes struggle to get to the weapons, and he advised Katniss to ignore the caches and to head into the forest instead, where her skills at hunting will enable her to survive the initial foray.
With 11 of the 24 tributes dying in the opening minutes of the games, Katniss makes her way deep into the forest, but she is soon being pursued by a group of tributes who have formed an alliance, a group that strangely enough includes Peeta.
The rest of the story needs to be seen rather than told here. It’s a strong tale, moralistic and yet cruel. Lawrence is excellent, and Hutcherson holds his own in his scenes with her. But it is Stanley Tucci who steals every scene he is in as “Caesar Flickerman,” the TV host of The Hunger Games, as well as the pre and post-game programming. With a wildly colored hairdo and perfect projection as an announcer, there is an eerie quality to his work here that is reminiscent of Richard Dawson’s “Damon Killian” in The Running Man, although we will have to wait and see the true nature of Caesar as it is revealed in the next two chapters of the trilogy.
Donald Sutherland is also wonderful in his brief scenes as the President of Panem, and I’m sure we’ll get more of him in the next two installments.
Teens killing teens and younger children can’t help but be shocking in violence, but Ross manages to get the deaths done without making the gore gratuitous. The visuals range from dark squalor to brilliant opulence and are well executed.
The Hunger Games is a winner.