Movies: "The Hunger Games" | Arts & Culture
I may have been among the last people in the world to see this movie, which has already set all sorts of box office records. (I may also have been one of, say, six or seven people who saw “John Carter”, but that’s another story.) Entire battalions of middle and high school students have already massed at the cineplex to enjoy the spectacle of kids killing kids.
Not having read the trilogy of Katniss Everdeen novels by Suzanne Collins, who co-wrote the screenplay with director Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”) and screenwriter Billy Ray (“State of Play”), I asked my daughter the librarian to accompany me and give me her take on how the movie stacks up against the book.
Could I see a show of hands for anyone who doesn’t already have a pretty good idea of the plot here? I thought so. But for those of you who’ve been in a coma these past few months, here goes. It’s a grim new future for the US, now called Panem and divided into twelve poverty-stricken districts and one very decadent capital. To atone for a failed uprising some years ago, each district has to select two children to participate in the televised games in which they must fight to the death until one is left standing.
When her little sister is picked for the games, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, who burst upon the scene in “Winter’s Bone”) volunteers to take her place. Her district is so benighted they still mine for coal there and she has to hunt for squirrels with a bow and arrow. Some future.
Chosen with her is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). They are whisked to the gleaming capital, where people dress like Cirque du Soleil performers and gorge themselves on fine food and wine, and where our two combatants will be prepped for battle by the drunken Hunger Games veteran, Haymitch Abernathy (a scenery-chewing Woody Harrelson) and the sympathetic Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), as well as interviewed by smarmy TV host Caesar Flickerman (the always delightful Stanley Tucci).
I don’t know how Ms. Collins came up with her characters’ names, but you’ve gotta love ‘em.
Before you can say Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss and Peeta are out in the woods (the movie was shot in North Carolina) and Katniss has to use all her backwoods skills to survive. All around her, children are slaughtering other children with knives, spears and assorted ironmongery, while cameras pick up every move. For the movie’s PG-13 rating, its cameras don’t linger on the deaths but even the fast cuts don’t leave much to the imagination. And if any of the gamers try to duck out on the killing, the spectacle producers can call up fireballs or ferocious dogs to flush them out.
Does anyone doubt that Katniss will survive all this? I didn’t think so. The only suspense here is what will befall the other kids, and as a result we are rarely on the edge of our seats throughout. The best part of the movie is watching Jennifer Lawrence come into her own as a big-ticket actress, and enjoying the work of supporting players, including Donald Sutherland as Panem’s cynical president, Alexander Ludwig as a young killing machine named Cato and 14-year old Amandla Stenberg as Rue, who befriends Katniss in the field.
We can also appreciate the work of production designer Philip Messina (“Ocean’s Eleven”), cinematographer Tom Stern (just about every Clint Eastwood movie) and costume designer Judianna Makovsky (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”), plus the varied music score, courtesy of T-Bone Burnett and James Newton Howard, with tunes by Arcade Fire and The Decembrists, among others.
So how good is “The Hunger Games”? My librarian daughter enjoyed it, but said the movie left out many characters from the book and toned down its graphic violence to gain mass appeal, which it surely has.
We agreed to give it a B.