With the scarred four-eyed wizard gone from the box-office, and those glimmering blood suckers soon to be on their way out, teens need a new franchise to spend their parents' money on. Part science fiction, part young romance, and all parts adventure, The Hunger Games is that new franchise. Suzanne Collins is the latest modern day author to have her book series adapted to big screen blockbuster films for this year's first true smash hit, The Hunger Games.
Let me preface this film review by stating I have not read any of Collins' Hunger Games novels. I went into this movie fresh with no reservations or expectations and came out a big fan -- so much so that I went out and bought the three Hunger Games books the day after I saw the film (can't wait to start reading them). If you are like me and have no previous knowledge of this series, I'll bring you up to speed.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where the ruins of North America are now a country known as Panem. Punishment for the rebellion that led to the destruction of North America over 75 years before, one boy and one girl from each of the Panem's 12 districts -- between the ages of 12 and 18 -- are selected in a lottery to compete as tributes in the annual Hunger Games in the Capital city. In the globally-televised Games, the 24 tributes battle to the death in a contained and controlled outdoor natural arena until there is a sole victor/survivor. During the lottery (or 'reaping' as they refer to it) for the 74th Hunger Games, 12-year-old Primrose Everdeen is selected as District 12's female tribute. Katniss Everdeen, Primrose's 16-year-old sister, volunteers in her place and enters the deadly competition to spare her sister's life. The film's story follows Katniss and her district's male tribute, Peeta, as they prepare, compete, and try to survive the Hunger Games.
Now don't worry about that summary being a full of spoilers, because I haven't given anything away that wasn't already in the film's 70-second trailer.
If it sounds like you may have heard of something similar to the premise of The Hunger Games before, you probably have. The televised, battle to the death tournament type of concept isn't a new one for both readers and movie-goers. The book and film adaptions of both Stephen King's The Running Man and the Japanese cult classic Battle Royale have close comparisons to this futuristic universe Collins has created. Those similarities aside, The Hunger Games still has plenty of its own unique concepts, story arcs, and characters to make itself stand out.
It is, however, hard not to compare The Hunger Games to another recent blockbuster series based on best-selling novels: Harry Potter. Both have their stories set in a world like no other, have a running time over the two-hour mark, and have a great lead and supporting cast (I'll get back to that in a minute). The film's pace is a bit slow in the beginning for those expecting action and adventure right away, as it takes a while to establish this distinctive new world and how the very different people belong in it. Although this is an adventure film on a grand scale, it's a personal survival story above all else. Even though the film has the premise of a brutal, bloody fight to the death, it's still a film for young adults, so the gore aspect is toned down. I'll be the first person to complain when an R-rated movie is reduced to a PG-13 rating, but here there was no need to amp up the violence just for entertainment's sake, because that's not where the excitement is. The excitement is following the film's characters.
So who is in this The Hunger Games, you might ask? The beautiful and talented Jennifer Lawrence is the face of this exciting new film franchise, playing the brave heroine Katniss. The 21-year-old Lawrence may be a relative newcomer to most movie audiences, but at a young age, this girl already has a second huge film franchise (X-Men: First Class) and an Oscar nomination for Best Actress (Winter's Bone) to her name -- and that Oscar nod was no fluke. Lawrence shows those impressive acting chops here along with some serious star power, as she balances the film's dramatic and action elements like a pro. What impressed me the most wasn't what the film did with Lawrence as its lead, but what they didn't do. As stunningly drop-dead-gorgeous of a women Lawrence is, the film (refreshing) doesn't sexualize her character to make her more appealing. There are enough skin-tight-suited bimbos on the silver screen these days, so I praise the studio for putting story ahead of sex here. There's no doubt Lawrence will shoot to super stardom after this film -- if she hasn't already. She definitely deserves it after this picture. As amazing as Lawrence is in the film, she isn't alone.
Like I said before, The Hunger Games has parallels to Harry Potter by also attracting a talented cast to this adaptation. Big names like Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and even rocker Lenny Kravitz join the Hunger Games phenomenon. As awesome as those individuals are, the great Stanley Tucci steals the show amongst the supporting cast as the Games announcer and commentator Caesar Flickerman. Part of it may be the outlandish wardrobe Tucci's character dons in the film, but he totally plays up this futuristic game show host persona to the nth degree. Rounding out the cast is Josh Hutcherson (Peeta) and Liam Hemsworth (Gale) as the men in Katniss' life. Hemsworth doesn't get much to work with here, but Hutcherson will be one to watch once this franchise takes off.
Being the first in the series, The Hunger Games leaves movie-goers with that feeling of unfinished business. But in a good way. Even though there are only three books in Collins' series, the rumour is the last installment, Mocking Jay, will be split into two films. Again, just like Harry. Shameless studio ploy for more money? Yes. But if the rest of the films are anything like the original here, I'm sold.
Andrew Burns loves film and comics, and can be found writing about when those worlds converge. You can follow him on Twitter at @myAndrewBurns.