“The Hunger Games” Movie Review

     It seems as though there a lot of people not connecting with “The Hunger Games”, but they were expecting to because of the hype machine behind the film’s opening.  Those people who fall in that category likely didn’t read the popular young adult book series the film is based on and thus didn’t realize it would be just like any other movie they would go see.  “The Hunger Games” is immensely successful because it arrived with a built in fan base.  If you weren’t part of that fan base, then you were left to take the movie in by itself with no preconceived expectations.  Count me in that group, since I neither read the books written by Suzanne Collins, nor did I do any investigation as to what the film was about.  Just the normal viewing of the trailer and an open, yet critical mind.

     I was pleasantly surprised to find “The Hunger Games” to be an astonishing piece of science fiction filmmaking as I found myself immersed in the vision realized on screen.  Whether you’ve read the book or not, “The Hunger Games” is a rousing entertainment.  Thanks to its literary source, the story and plot are solid, the acting is exceptional, and the film’s overall design is visionary.  Most important, the main characters in the film are fleshed out well before the games begin.  Given the violent nature of the film and the fate many of the characters face, character development is crucial so as to create the necessary emotion when one of the “tributes” are killed.

     In a post apocalyptic future, the world is divided into twelve districts and a governing Capitol.  It seems the districts vary in economic stature and the Capitol is home to the richest and most powerful people.  In District 12, we meet a society of people who seem to fall on the lowest rung of economic stability as many people don’t seem to know when they will be eating next.  We meet the film’s lead character, Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence.  I realized immediately why she was perfect for the Katniss role, remembering her Oscar nominated performance in “Winters Bone.”  Her character in that film and her character here are very similar.  In fact the setting for District 12 could also pass for the Ozarks as well.  As a hunter and an expert with a bow and arrow, Katniss is already battle hardened and quite able when it comes to survival and because of the events that come next, that’s a good thing.

     In what is dubbed “the 74th Hunger Games”, each district is required to provide via a lottery system one male and one female age 12 to 18 to compete as “tributes.”  When Katniss‘ younger sister is chosen, she volunteers to take her place.  The games are fairly simple.  After a few days of training and publicity, the 24 tributes are brought to an arena which is completely controlled environment wise.  The arena is a forrest setting, but the time of day, lighting, weather, and its inhabitants are completely under control of the game’s director.  The entire ordeal is filmed as a kind of futuristic reality show and the winner is guaranteed a life of riches.  How does one win the games?  You must be the last one alive, because “The Hunger Games” is a literal fight to the death amongst its participants.  Yes, this film is quite dark at its core.

     Director Gary Ross and his team have created a very scary and unique world for the characters to occupy.  The people who inhabit the Capitol are garishly dressed and the host of the games is no less than Stanley Tucci with blue hair fashioned into a bun.  He and his partner serve as commentators through the games and also oversee the build up.  Perhaps one of the best parts of the story’s structure is that build up.  For the first hour, our main players spend time on talk shows, receive weapons and agility training, and are mentored by a past winner played by Woody Harrelson.  By the time they are inserted into the arena and the countdown clock begins, you find yourself on the edge of your seat.  What happens after that is for the most part unpredictable.  After the initial blood bath, the strongest characters play a game of futuristic “Survivor” as they try to outwit one another.  Problem is, this is a TV show and if the director feels he’s not getting the moments that will please the audience, than he simply alters the environment.

     In truth, “The Hunger Games” owes a lot to films such as “The Truman Show”, “Blade Runner”, and maybe “Hard Target” or “Surviving the Game.”  It’s not as original as “Inception” was a couple years ago, but it is a quality entertainment and I’m certainly game for seeing the sequels they will undoubtedly green light. There is certainly a lot more to say about this film, but I’ll leave the details for you to discover during your viewing. Temper your expectations a bit and don’t go in thinking your about to see something great simply because of the hype caused by a loyal fan base.  Instead, go in expecting a solid and thought provoking science fiction film and you won’t be disappointed.  GRADE: B+