Notable Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Toby Jones, Willow Shields, Woody Harrelson
Review: Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 Japanese cult film Battle Royale remains as one of the most memorable films I’ve ever encountered, and will admit I expected a PG-13 American watered down version with The Hunger Games’ release. I wanted to write how The Hunger Games was nothing but a Twilight film for faux action fans, how Ross’ film pales in comparison to an R rated Japanese tournament with a focus on violence, how producers were trying nothing but to capitalize off the adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ wildly popular written trilogy, essentially expecting a soft and safe tale. I wanted to, yet rightfully can’t. The Hunger Games deserves every ounce of hype created whether it’s the outpouring of fans, critical praise, breaking of box office records (biggest opening weekend for a non sequel film at 155-ish million), and racial controversy over casting of specific roles. Wait, rewind, seriously? Yes, only in America can a young child actor’s bold performance be overlooked by embarrassingly ignorant off-color public comments because while reading the book a certain character “didn’t seem black.” Let’s just sample just a few disgustingly close minded tweets:
“why does rue have to be black gonna lie kinda ruined the movie.”
“Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad.”
“Wtf cinna is black?????!!!!!!!(just saying wht everyone is thinking)lol”
Right, let’s not talk about all the positive Ross created with The Hunger Games and the wonderful characters that populate Collins’ scary dystopian universe, and comment on the thoughts racing through the minds of utter morons: how could a character be African-American! So unless there’s room for a “token black guy,” a character can’t be African-American? For the sake of the population who aren’t apparently secret racists, there should be a disclaimer on each twitter account boasting such witless comments separating them from the population more focused on picture than color. I could go on and on about the undeserved controversy clouding the successful film under fire, but since I wasn’t bothered by something that should have been inconsequential, we’ll save that rant for a rainy day. While I can’t comment on book to film inconsistencies (sorry, barely have enough time for film anymore!), The Hunger Games surpassed all expectations and even surprised with simple yet brutal execution, even given a PG-13 rating. The Hunger Games shouldn’t scare away original fans, winning over this Hunger virgin easily.
In a future not so far away, the nation of Panem has been divided into Districts after a brutal uprising. Government officials now rule with an iron fist, exemplified by instituting a yearly competition called The Hunger Games. Each District is forced to offer a male and female “tribute” that fights to the death against all other tributes from the other 11 Districts, picked via lottery. Children 12-18 have their name entered in the lottery, some more than others based on a family’s acceptance of government rations, being forced into battle. In District 12, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) does her best to younger sister Primrose (Shields), but sees the frightened youth get pick her first year in contention. Through an act of selflessness, Katniss volunteers herself for Primrose’s own good. Katniss herself has been harnessing her hunting skilled for years with friend/possible love interest Gale (Hemsworth) in being an expert bowman, knowing her chances of survival were immensely greater than Primrose’s. On the male side, Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) is selected, who also has a small past with Katniss. Under the tutelage of past winner Haymitch (Harrelson), Effie Trinket (Banks), and stylist Cinna (Kravitz); Katniss and Peeta prepare to battle for their lives. Expect lessons to be learned and feelings to be uncovered along the way, because a royal rumble wouldn’t be complete without emotions interrupting…
Looks like Hutcherson won’t need those kid flicks like Journey to the Center of the Earth anymore…
What The Hunger Games does fantastically is pull the viewer full force into Panem; this bleak suppressed nation. Between the shanty mine towns and flamboyant upper class Capitol dwellers the atmosphere was distinct and unique, with some spectacularly extravagant costume design in respect to the wealthy class. Actors like Tucci and Banks inspired roles filled with energy (mainly Tucci) which brought the futuristic atmosphere to life while Cinna and Haymitch kept the humanitarian aspects in check. Whereas a film like Battle Royale focused more on action, The Hunger Games took care in building an entire universe in hopes of continuing success. Battle Royale 2 was disappointingly forgettable because of such a mistake, mainly providing action on a larger scale. Yes, the film is based on a trilogy of books so inevitable set ups were to occur, but that doesn’t mean Ross had to do them right. The Hunger Games avoids focus on exploitation, hooking me in for another installment even though the future films promise little action.
Can someone please watch out for Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson’s safety as well? An avalanche of scripts are about to cascade down directly on these two young stars based off popularity…deservingly. Hutcherson’s has really only been known for kid flicks up to this point, and I’m anticipating a goofy horror role in the upcoming slasher Detention, but The Hunger Games turned Josh from boy to man. Jennifer Lawrence on the other hand was a stand out female lead with courage and passion, and a performance worthy of erasing her credit on “The Bill Engvall Show.” Katniss is a character depicting hope, as she sticks to her morals in a time of great despair, never giving in to the shackles binding so many. She teaches lessons transferable to our lives, offering up the ultimate sacrifice. The young girls of our generation can finally stop idolizing a pasty emotionless vampire lover and embrace a female model following a powerful moral compass…that doesn’t sparkle. Some faith in humanity is restored.
So, how did Hunger strike so rich? Well, besides the Twilight-esque cult following, boyfriends could be dragged along this time with promises of gladiator type battling. A whole new demographic was opened. And for a film which I thought might skimp out of actual warrior visuals, The Hunger Games holds nothing back as violence erupts. We watch Cato and Clove prey on weaker tributes as the games open, highlighting the depressing and scary nature of this barbaric event. A selection like Tribute Boy District 4 (curly-haired weakling) spelled nothing but death, with the child fully aware. Training and pampering only elongate the process, delaying the inevitable. Same thing goes for poor Rue. A cute pipsqueak like that is going to win a death match against trained combatants? Just imagine having you name picked on lottery day, and hearing the empty blessing of “May the odds be ever in your favor….” Thankfully, the odds were in Gary Ross’ favor, as The Hunger Games surpasses all expectations and wins by mainstreaming a topic usually saved for other more ambitious/outlandish genres. To quote Gale: “all they want is a good show…” And he couldn’t be more right.
Final Rating: 7.5 dirty loaves of bread out of 10
At what point are we jacking into the Matrix?