I was first introduced to The Hunger Games by a co-worker. I had seen the books before as they lined the shelves of my local Wal-Mart but it never occurred to me to even try reading the books. Then I heard about a movie being released. Suddenly the books, that I had no intention of reading, became a phenomenon that was getting increasingly more difficult to ignore. So I picked them up. I should preface things by saying that whenever anything becomes a part of pop culture, I become leery of it ( I still refuse to touch anything Twilight.) Most of the time things that become over popular aren’t really that good. Harry Potter might be the exception to the rule. The story of The Hunger Games is about a post apocalyptic society ( formally America) called Panem. America was subject to a rebellion which ended up in annihilation. As a result, Panem is formed. In this society, Panem is divided into 13 districts and each district is known for a different product that they contribute to the society. A totalitarian government is formed and, as a punishment to Panem for the rebellion, each district must offer two of their children each year( one male, one female between the ages of 12-18) to fight to the death in what is called The Hunger Games. Only 12 of the districts compete and the competition is televised. Each person is chosen in a raffle of sorts during a ceremony called The Reaping. A person can have their name entered into the raffle multiples times. Each person can be entered multiple times if they buy tesserae( extra rations in exchange for their name being added into the raffle).
If you haven’t read the books, and plan to, you should not read this next part. The main character of the story is Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old female who is taking care of her family after her father dies in a tragic mining accident. Her mom decides she is emotionally unable to handle the stress of the loss and ‘checks out’, forcing Katniss to take care of her younger sister Primrose. The story begins with Katniss meeting her best friend and semi-romantic interest (Gale) in the woods where they go hunting together. Hunting is forbidden by the Capitol of Panem and is enforced by giant space ships that patrol the skies and abduct people that are doing it. The prisoners are taken to the capitol where their tongues are removed and they are forced into becoming servants to the rich. It is a Reaping day and both Katniss and Gale are worried about the games( Gale’s name is in the lottery over 40 times). After hunting, Katniss returns home to her mom preparing her youngest daughter for the Reaping Ceremony. She is 12 and it is her first Reaping. Katniss assures that Primrose will not be chosen because her name is only in the Reaping once. And of course she is chosen. In order for Katniss to protect her sister she volunteers to take her place in the Hunger Games. The boy that is chosen is Peeta Mellark, who is also 16. We learn later that Peeta has a crush on Katniss and, as a result, both Peeta and Katniss are forced to pretend to be star crossed lovers in order to keep themselves alive.
There are other characters in the series that have important roles but in order to make this sound less like a summary of the series and more like a review, I’m going to skip introducing them all. As a review to the book and movie, I want to start by saying that this is a Young Adult series that should not be marketed to kids in any way, shape or form. The idea of children killing children should be shocking and disgusting and parents that are incensed that this book is in school libraries have a legitimate concern. That being said, it is marketed for young adults. There is no doubt in my mind that the author intended her series to be a pointed commentary about reality TV and the shocking violence in schools but I’m not sure that kids would understand that distinction. The books are brutal and violent and evoke strong emotions. As an adult, I found myself appreciative of the irony and satire that blatantly poked fun at the audacity of reality TV, but as an uncle I found myself concerned that children are reading this series. So what did I think of the Hunger Games movie and book? Both the book and movie do an excellent job of showing how TV distorts reality and also does a great job of pointing out the disgusting things that society determines is acceptable. The book does an excellent job of reminding us that teenagers are fickle and adult emotions can be confusing to younger kids. But this is where I’m conflicted. Spoiler alert…….in order for the book to be brought to life, the director had to find a way to allow the books’ main audience to be consumers of the movie without making it Rated R. In some ways, I think this is where the movie fell short. While the movie did plenty to show us the absurdity of the games, it used a shaky cam technique to portray the violence of kids killing kids and, as a result, the violence didn’t pack the same emotional punch the books had. While I completely understand that it had to be done to keep it at a PG-13 rating, I don’t think the movie did enough to tick us off. In fact, I’d have played on the controversy even more to make the movie even better. Strange decisions were made in what was not included in the movie. For instance, in the book, Gale and Katniss witness a girl being abducted in the woods and later Katniss sees her at the Capitol as a mute servant whose tongue was removed. In addition, in the book, Katniss and Peeta are chased by dogs that have the faces of the other kids that were killed. Both of those instances serve as reminders that we are supposed to be incensed and Katniss as well toward the Capitol. We get that Katniss is upset that she is participating in the barbaric games but we lose the glimpses at just how low the Capitol is willing to stoop to terrify these children and punish them. They also made the budding romance between Peeta and Katniss too easy. In the book her indecision about Peeta borders on annoying, while in the movie it’s not really touched on enough.
As far as the acting goes, I thought the boy who played Peeta was spot on. I also thought that Woody Harrelson did a great job at playing the deeply disturbed and drunken mentor for Peeta and Katniss. I also thought Stanley Tucci was great as a TV commentator and Lenny Kravitz was also great as their stylist. I’m still on the fence on Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of the Heroin I guess her performance seemed wooden to me.
All in all, I though the movie was good. Could it have been better? Yes, but at the cost of losing its target audience. Satire should be unapologetic. The book was. The movie was not. I’d give it 3 stars