Thursday, November 20, 2014

Movie Review: "The Hunger Games"

When the first Hunger Games movie was released a few years ago, I wrote a review to answer some of the concerns parents had about this movie. The review is re-published below, since the third movie in the series will be released this weekend.

Movie Review: The Hunger Games (2012)

By John Sanidopoulos

March 30, 2012

Story: Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister's place for the latest match.

Director: Gary Ross
Screenplay: Suzanne Collins
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson

Official Trailer
Official Website


The Hunger Games is based on the best-selling Suzanne Collins dystopian novel of the same name. It is rated PG-13 mainly due to its brutal child-on-child violence and death. The film currently holds the record for the third best opening weekend box office sales of any movie ($152.5 million) in North America behind The Dark Knight ($158 million) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 ($169 million) and the biggest for a non-sequel. It was well received by critics, who praised Lawrence's performance and its themes and messages, whilst it was mildly criticized for its watered-down violence and its filming style. It has also been hailed as "darker than Harry Potter, more sophisticated than Twilight."

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the Capitol of the nation of Panem (as in panem et circenses, Latin for "bread and circuses") forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. They are living under the constant reminder that the Capitol obliterated District 13 for their rebellion, and for this they began the annual event. Part twisted entertainment, part government intimidation tactic, the Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which 24 "Tributes" must fight with one another until one survivor remains.

Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who enters the Games voluntarily to replace her younger sister, is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). If she's ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

Entering the movie, I had not read the book but did have high expectations knowing how popular the book has become. I was not disappointed, as I found it to be a compelling, intelligent and action-packed film which is well-acted and entertaining. However, the quick, jumpy movements of the camera throughout was hard to handle at times. For the most part, I didn’t notice the jerky camera shooting, except during the action scenes. Perhaps this was a way to keep the movie PG-13 and not show the gore and violence going on, but at the same time it adds to the film a sense of danger since the book is written from the perspective of the main character Katniss, and one would think this is how she would view the events around her. I would have also liked the soundtrack to be more dystopian, with a song like "Disposable Teens" by Marilyn Manson which is about how teenagers are disposable in a dystopian society, as opposed to Taylor Swift, although she is more palpable to younger audiences.

I have heard parents worry about their children viewing the movie. The movie does handle heavy subjects and issues and is violent, at least suggestively, so I would be cautious having any child under 10-years-old seeing this movie. Beyond that the film is careful to not dwell too much on the violence so as to make it viewable for younger audiences. The first time I saw it was opening day with my brother-in-law and he was strongly against having his 8-year-old daughter seeing it, but the second time I saw it was with my two 12-year-old nephews who loved the film and their only complaint was that it was a bit long. Personally I think the beloved children's movies I grew up with were much more frightening, like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Goonies, but the serious tone and the length of The Hunger Games is more designed for teenagers.

As far as the morality of the story, some caution could be made. I don't know what the books say, but Panem appears to be a godless society that has reduced itself to the pagan-like entertainments of barbaric times. Some would see this as a negative, but I more view it as a caution as to what we can become. The viewer knows that what he is seeing in this post-apocalytpic society is wrong and they are cheering for the victims. Altruistic sacrifices are made throughout the movie, and virtues are displayed as opposed to vices. The lack of public outcry against the barbarity of the Hunger Games is lacking severely however and one voice of reason would have been nice to see, but the end does have such a moment which I assume carries into the second book.

The Hunger Games is a post-apocalyptic take on a familiar American myth. We have seen the gist of the story time and time again and everyone has been exposed to one form of the story in one way or another. When Shirley Jackson published "The Lottery" in 1948 it also had wide controversy, but today it is considered one of the best short stories in American literature. Similar things could be said for William Golding's Lord of the Flies and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Hunger Games is a bit of a combination of the three. I would also add in the dystopian movies Metropolis, Blade Runner, Death Race 2000, The Truman Show, Cube, Gattaca, Zoolander, The Most Dangerous Game, The Running Man and even Spartacus. One also sees traces of television reality shows like Survivor and The Bachelorette. I was also amazed how similar this movie was to Kinji Fukasaku's Japanese film Battle Royale, but there are differences and the Japanese film, also based on a book, is much more violent and cut-throat. Equally I was amazed how similar the society created in The Hunger Games was similar to that of the mini-series Amerika, which also had America divided into twelve districts by the communists. Even in ancient literature and history we find the themes spoken of in The Hunger Games, such as in the stories of Theseus and the goddess Diana, as well as in Robin Hood, the gladiatorial games of Rome, the scapegoat of the Old Testament, and even the sacrifice of Christ. It is common for artists to borrow from and improve on many sources; after all Quentin Tarantino has built his career on this principle.