|I'm so happy that I'm not the only person who immediately thought of this|
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is a teenager living in District 12, which appears to consist of what was once Appalachia. Thankfully, there isn't any meth in this future, but the region is still dirt poor, with the inhabitants scraping just to survive. While the setting doesn't look futuristic (yet), you do catch a glimpse of a flying car. That's not the only innovation in this future; taking a hint from Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, the kids of this futuristic super-state participate in the Hunger Games. Every year, a boy and a girl (ages 12-18) are randomly chosen to represent each district (hint: there are twelve) as Tributes in a fight to the death, which serves as televised entertainment for the masses. You get entered in the lottery in a variety of ways, whether once for every year you are eligible, or your family can opt to enter your name in multiple times to receive more food or other necessities. Thanks, Mom. When Katniss' sister is selected as Tribute in her first year of eligibility, Katniss volunteers to take her place. Why? Well, Katniss is basically a bad-ass; she is an ace archer, she's obviously strong, is emotionally tough, and already cares for her sister like she would a daughter. Of course she volunteers to save her sister's life. Just as obviously, this wouldn't appeal to the YA fans if it was just about teens murdering teens. No, the cards are beyond stacked against Katniss. For starters, there are other Tributes who spend their lives training for the Games, who have grown up learning how to kill and how to survive.
|The first lesson is to look extremely smug|
The first thing you will probably notice about The Hunger Games is how familiar it is. The most obvious parallels are The Lottery and Battle Royale, but the basics of this story have popped up in a variety of films before. The reality television angle has been covered in The Truman Show, the battle to the death has come up in a number of movies (Death Race 2000 is a personal favorite), the invasive government is similar to so many post-apocalyptic futures (1984, V For Vendetta, etc.), and the whole kids-killing-kids theme has obviously been popularized in Lord of the Flies. Hell, even movies you wouldn't immediately compare to a dystopian science fiction tale have some surprising parallels; Jennifer Lawrence first gained acclaim for her work in Winter's Bone, where she played poor white trash in Appalachia that is strong, determined, takes care of her siblings, has a worthless mother, hunts to supplement the family income, and puts herself in harm's way to protect her family. Sound familiar?
|Some scenes are even reminiscent of Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo|
Luckily, the story is told in a way that doesn't force those realizations on you immediately (or, at least you don't really mind when you figure them out). Director Gary Ross does an admirable job respecting the audience's intelligence throughout this film. So many other directors would have gone out of their way to explain some of the concepts in The Hunger Games, but Ross often chooses the subtle approach. Sure, he could have characters in District 12 mutter about how posh and spoiled the people in the capital are, but he simply opts to let their appearances speak for them.
|This look suggests "jackass"|
|Except, of course, for the racist ones|
The acting in The Hunger Games was pretty solid. Jennifer Lawrence again plays a strong heroine, and she once again impresses. There are so few good, strong female roles in Hollywood, it is nice to see someone play such a role convincingly. Katniss is definitely the main character in this story, but the leading supporting cast member, Peeta, was played ably by Josh Hutcherson. Yes, he's kind of a weenie, but that appears to be how the character was meant to be played. The next most noteworthy cast member was definitely Woody Harrelson; he went from uncaring drunk to able mentor a little too easily for my liking, but Harrelson is a welcome addition to just about any cast. Elizabeth Banks was almost unrecognizable as Effie, wearing a nightmarish makeup blend that seemed to mix a poodle with cotton candy.
|Good idea. Put the mic close to capture the sound of mouth breathing|
Stanley Tucci looked just as ridiculous as an overbearing television personality. This film also marks a few milestones for certain actors. Lenny Kravitz was surprisingly good in his small role; I was expecting Gavin Rossdale-level crappiness from Kravitz, but he was actually quite likable. I was also happy to see Wes Bentley in a movie; ever since American Beauty, I have been hoping for him to do something cool. This isn't it, but it's a solid supporting role that will hopefully lead to that movie I dreamed up where he and Christopher Walken play father-son psychopaths.
|P.S.: Fantastic beard. That is Wooly Willy good|
So, the question remains: is this a movie for you? Well, I can't imagine anyone who would absolutely hate The Hunger Games. That's not necessarily an endorsement, I know, but this is an entertaining movie. The familiarity of the concept made it feel a little long to me, but I wasn't bored. As much as I liked Jennifer Lawrence, I wish she had shown a little more range; she had the same wide-eyed look of surprise in a number of scenes, and she always seemed to convey nervousness by leaving her mouth open.