The Hunger Games presents a future with a disturbing amount of plausibility. Author Suzanne Collins originally envisioned the dystopian world of The Hunger Games after channel surfing. She blended the idea of America’s current war with reality TV and included parallels to Greek mythology. Specifically the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. The intense YA themes of the 2008 book made it a must read among my generation. The Hunger Games was actually on my summer reading list for my Junior year, but I was still a lazy reader at the time. So I went to see the movie by myself instead.
2012 was the year of the bow & arrow and knew I couldn’t miss another budding YA franchise. Like most living authors of a popular book series, Collins had a lot of input in the Lionsgate adaptation. An all-star cast of acclaimed and/or rising actors were chosen and well-regarded director Gary Ross took over production. The Hunger Games had a difficult task of depicting children killing each other on-screen and still retaining a PG-13 rating. Although the over reliant shaky cam was a bad decision, it did open up a larger audience for the intense competition. The Hunger Games did justice to its source material without compromising its message…
The Hunger Games became a phenomenon exactly how I imagined it would. I may not have read the book, but I could tell it was a very faithful adaptation with the usual amount missing or added. The Hunger Games was exactly what young adults needed. Especially after Twilight ended. Unlike Bella Swan, Katniss Everdeen was a great role model in a story that anyone could envision. Although she intended to stick with small productions, Jennifer Lawrence was perfectly cast as Katniss. X-Men: First Class was already a push towards blockbuster film and she was about to win an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook anyway. Lawrence may have been older than 16 and definitely not starving, but she dyed her hair brown and pulled off Katniss’ maturity and strength of character. While at the same time managing her cleverness with a bow & arrow.
The Hunger Games is set in the futuristic dystopia of Panem. North America is separated into 12 (formally 13) Districts that supply goods for the wealthy totalitarian Capitol. District 1 (Luxury), District 2 (Masonry and defense), District 3 (Technology), District 4 (Fishing), District 5 (Power), District 6 (Transportation), District 7 (Lumber), District 8 (Textiles), District 9 (Grain), District 10 (Livestock), District 11 (Agriculture), and District 12 (Coal). District 13 (Nuclear Weaponry) was destroyed during the first rebellion and the Hunger Games was established 74 years ago. Katniss lives in the impoverished District 12 along with a whole cast of unusually named characters. District 12 was shot in a real abandoned shanty town. They captured the poverty and Katniss’ need to hunt, but they couldn’t get something as simple as the breed of their cat right. Turning Buttercup from an orange cat to a black cat. At least the rest of the cast is pitch perfect.
The hunky Liam Hemsworth nabbed his first long-term role as Gale Hawthorne. Gale is a close friend of Katniss who helps the Everdeen family anyway that he can. Although he’d be an obvious love interest, Twilight unfortunately needed to force another unnecessary love triangle. With her father deceased and her mother out of it, Katniss cares for her 12 year old sister Primrose. She gifts her with the all important symbol of the Mockingjay, but it’s not enough to protect her from the Reaping. Every year a boy and girl from the 12 Districts are chosen by random to compete in the Hunger Games. Elizabeth Banks makes an impression as the purple clad Effie Trinket. Her outrageous style reflects the Lady Gaga-esque look of the Capitol. Effie is an escort who calls the names and takes her Tributes to their game related appointments.
Prim’s name is called, but Katniss utters her iconic line “I volunteer as tribute!” Taking her sisters place in the games. Peeta Mellark isn’t quite so lucky. Josh Hutcherson may be really short, but he captures Peeta’s charm and strong build. Their departure is signaled by the famous three finger salute. As they board the train, Katniss and Peeta are greeted by the only surviving Victor and mentor of District 12. Haymitch Abernathy is sort of a drunken embarrassment, but he’s the only person who tells it like it is. The role only boosted Woody Harrelson’s popularity. You’d think getting to the Hunger Games would be a quick process, but there’s a whole lot of work that needs to be done. Some of which needed to be expanded from the book. Donald Sutherland was inspired casting as the evil President Coriolanus Snow. The ruthless way he views the games are presented with the equally fleshed out Seneca Crane. Wes Bentley puts the pointy beard Gamemaker in positions Katniss never witnessed in the book.
What Katniss does experience is a beautification done by the stylists of the Capitol. Katniss is pretty standoffish, but she does make friends with her personal stylist Cinna. Someone only a rockstar like Lenny Kravitz can pull off. He helps Katniss and Peeta make an impression at the traditional chariot ceremony. Katniss becomes the “Girl on Fire” when their outfits catch fire and impress the crowd. Then each tribute trains with and/or intimidates their competition. Until they’re each individually evaluated on their individual skill set. Katniss’ archery goes by unnoticed, so she shoots an apple from the conference room instead. Katniss accidentally gains further appreciation that she uses in her personal interview with the very eccentric Caesar Flickerman. Effectively played by Stanley Tucci. Katniss stands out more with her flaming dress, but Peeta steals the show with his declaration of love. Something they both have to use in order to survive and gain life saving sponsors in the competition.
Tributes are finally given a tracker, arena appropriate outfits, and sent up a tube with a farewell from their stylist. The control room is given explicit detail along with how the Districts view the games on a projector. A final ominus countdown appears and a horn signals the start of the 74th Hunger Games. Since every game understandably starts with a bloodbath, the entire scene is made to look as disoritating as possible. All weapons and important supplies are deeper into the central Cornucopia that Tributes either run towards or away from. Katniss barely makes off with supplies like a rope and cantina. The forest arena is fraught with danger that makes it even more difficult to survive. When killed, Tributes receive a cannon and are memorialized at the end of each night. Although it seems implausible in a life or death game, alliances are always formed as well. Usually between the more bloodthirsty career Tributes of District 1 & 2.
Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Jack Quaid, and Leven Rambin are plenty remorseless as Cato, Clove, Marvel, and Glimmer, but they’re all a victim of circumstance. So it’s difficult to celebrate any of their deaths. Peeta gains their acceptance, but most of his survival is thanks to his ridiculously implausible camouflage painting skills. Katniss gains an advantage (and a bow) when she drops a tracker jacker hive on the careers. Another interesting part of the games are the scientifically bred animals made by the Capitol. Muttations range from deadly to non-lethal. The hallucinatory tracker jackers knock Katniss out, but she’s quickly saved by District 11’s 12 year old Rue. Amandla Stenberg is so convincing that I knew her inevitable death would be tough to get through. They bond and communicate with the signature Mockingjay whistle. Katniss gains a further advantage by blowing up the remaining food, but Rue is lost when Marvel attacks. Rue’s death sparks a riot throughout District 11 that ignites an uprising.
When Crane has Snow agree to a rule change, Katniss and Peeta are given a chance to survive. Peeta is in bad shape, but her mostly unconvincing romance helps him survive a bit longer. Until she’s forced to travel to the Cornucopia for a feast. District 11’s Thresh kills Clove for Katniss and she in turn saves Peeta. Leaving Thresh, Cato, and the very clever Foxface as the remaining Tributes. Poison nightlock berries outsmart Foxface and dog-like Mutts take out Thresh. Leading to the big finale where Katniss and Peeta are forced to battle Cato atop the Cornucopia. The victory is bittersweet, but it’s made more complicated when the 2 Victor rule is revoked. They try to eat the berries Romeo & Juliet style until both are declared the winner instead. They may have won the battle, but the true consequences of the game have just begun. The Hunger Games may have drawn comparison to Battle Royale, but there’s really nothing else like it. There’s no way I’d ever want to be in a situation like this. Society’s obsession with violence and reality TV are why it seems so plausible. The Hunger Game made an entertaining spectacle out of a horrific reality. “May the odds be ever in your favor.”
Followed by: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire