The Hunger Games (PG-13)
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This is the first film in a franchise based on a series of immensely popular books. (I haven't read the books, but I'd kind of like to, just to get a fuller sense of the world and characters, which the movie, in spite of being a bit lengthy- 142 minutes- just doesn't have time to go into too much detail about. I have no idea when I might get around to reading the books, or if I even will at all. Which is a shame. But, time will tell.) Anyway, I'm not sure exactly when the movie is set, but probably a few hundred years in the future. So I could have put my review under "science fiction," but it really doesn't have a very futuristic feel, in spite of the dystopian setting. I could have called it "action/adventure," but in spite of intense action (which fans of the book will tell you is not nearly as intense as it is in the book), it's definitely not an adventure. I could call it "scary," or "weird," or... something. But I originally decided to go with drama, because... well, it's pretty dramatic. However, after watching the second movie, Catching Fire, I decided to start a new section for dystopian movies, and I moved this review there.
There's a country called Panem, which I guess consists of twelve districts plus the Capitol. (Incidentally, "Capitol" is the spelling I found online; I'd expect it to be "Capital," but maybe it'd make more sense if I read the books.) I guess about 74 years before this movie, thirteen districts rebelled against the Capitol, but the rebellion failed, and District 13 was destroyed. Every year since the war ended, each of the twelve remaining districts has been forced to send one girl and one boy, aged between 12 and 18, to fight in "The Hunger Games," a fight to the death between the twenty-four "tributes." The Games- which are televised- may last up to a week or so, and it's not over until only one tribute is left alive. Um... I gotta say, there have been any number of movies about televised battles of various sorts, and of course such mortal combat has been used as entertainment for thousands of years. Nor is the idea of human sacrifices to avoid war anything new. But this particular incarnation of such ideas is done pretty well.
Anyway, the tributes are selected by lottery, and the story focuses on the tributes from District 12. A 12-year-old girl named Primrose Everdeen is selected for the 74th annual Hunger Games, but her 16-year-old sister, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), volunteers to go in her place. The other tribute from District 12 is 16-year-old Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who we'll eventually learn has long had a crush on Katniss. (Before the selections, we see Katniss spending time with a friend named Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), and one might get the vague idea that he had a romantic interest in Katniss, but the movie doesn't really make it very clear.) Katniss and Peeta travel on a luxurious monorail to the place where the Games will be held, and receive some coaching from Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), who had won the Games at some point in the past. At first, he seems interested in nothing but getting drunk, but eventually he'll prove helpful. They're also accompanied by a chaperone named Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), who acted like a promoter or something. I mostly found her kind of annoying. The movie's main antagonist is the President of Panem, Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). Some other important(ish) characters include the Head Gamemaker, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley); a stylist named Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), who is pretty much the only good guy in the Capitol; a master of ceremonies/commentator named Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), and another commentator named Claudius Templesmith (Toby Jones). As for the other tributes, I felt we didn't get to know most of them well enough. The main rival of our heroes seems to be a guy named Cato, who leads an alliance of tributes from various districts. And there's a 12-year-old girl named Rue (from District 11), who eventually teams up with Katniss.
Well... the Games didn't even start til about halfway into the movie, but I kind of thought both halves of the movie each felt almost like a whole movie, itself. And um... well, I don't really want to spoil anything about the outcome of the Games, but like I said, the whole thing is very dramatic. And it seems like it could have some major consequences for Panem itself. (The future movies will reveal more about that.) For now, all I can say is the movie was thrilling and scary and maddening and hopeful and all kinds of contradictory things. I don't doubt the book was better, but the movie was pretty damn good, itself. And certainly it had a great cast.