By Paeter Frandsen
In the last few years The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins has rapidly gained an audience in the mainstream market consisting of both male and female readers, despite the fact that the genre is science fiction and the perspective is an uncommon first person present tense.
My younger sister, who got me to read most of the Harry Potter books, also somehow convinced me to read all three of the Hunger Games books, although I should say that I found them moderately enjoyable. And when I heard news of the movie in development I became very curious as to how they would adapt this kind of book to the screen.
The premise of the film is the same as that of the books. In the future the United States has been divided into Districts, all ruled by a Capitol. At some point, the blue collar people of the Districts, whose sweat and labor give a life of self-indulgence to those in the Capitol, rose in rebellion against the Capitol and lost. As punishment, the Capitol greatly restricts the food supply to each District and holds a competition each year featuring two representatives of each District. The winning District is awarded more food for a year. The contest? The Hunger Games: an all out fight to the death in a simulated wilderness environment until only a single District's competitor remains.
The story centers on 17 year-old Katniss, who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister when she is selected by lottery to compete in in the Hunger Games, but the story also features a supporting ensemble cast of interesting characters.
All of the performances in this film are great and never took me out of the movie. I would classify this not as a sci-fi action flick, but as an emotionally involving sci-fi drama with a helping of romance on the side. The romance isn't quite as strong as in the book, which despite my interest in romance I was grateful for. However it is still an important part of the story. There are certainly some action beats too, but the characters propel the experience from beginning to end and the action is always in service to the drama, never simply spectacle.
I don't think there was a ton of money thrown at the effects budget, which doesn't have to be a problem. Much of the movie takes place in a forest environment requiring no green screen or digital effects. And the experience is no less intense for the scarcity of CGI. However there were a few moments in the Capitol, such as the chariot parade presenting the competitors to an enthusiastic sea of people, that utilized glaringly obvious green screen backgrounds. And if you've read the books, you'll likely find the outfits Katniss wears for public presentations to fall far short of their potential. A shame given the important emotional impact her costumes were meant to have in contribution to her survival.
Although the overall experience is strong, it also feels like setup for a larger story, which it is. It doesn't end on a cliffhanger by any means, but there is still plenty of unfinished business. Because of this, the story may feel incomplete and lacking some of the payoff viewers typically expect.
There are some very compelling ideas being expressed in this movie that are worth contemplating. The Capitol is clearly portrayed as "the enemy" or at least as "the problem" for the protagonists. And chief among the characteristics of the Capitol's culture are a disregard for human life, an obsession with entertainment and self-indulgence, and a gross prioritization of outward appearances, which takes the form of overly made-up women and strikingly effeminate men. That final ingredient in connection with what we're meant to think of as a "bad" society makes me wonder what the reaction to this film will be from the homosexual community.
Either way, I felt myself thinking about my own priorities, and the times I've chosen to immerse myself in a video game or other entertainment instead of pursuing something of greater worth, such as investing time in my family or in pursuit of my relationship with God.
This movie isn't condemning entertainment, and neither do I. But this film does seem to suggest that we should not make experiencing pleasure our highest priority. A bitter tasting medicine if we're willing to swallow it and one not often coming from Hollywood. But a medicine we need.
The Hunger Games is a great movie with wide appeal that falls short of its potential, but is engaging and thought provoking all the same.
Rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images - all involving teens.
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