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THE HUNGER GAMES: Playing for keeps

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Stanley Tucci and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games

Huge out of the gate comes The Hunger Games directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville), and co-written with Suzanne Collins, author of the original book trilogy. If you’re wondering whether this movie, which has its roots in a young-adult (YA) novel, could appeal to you, read these Reel Answers.


The Hunger Games
Directed by Gary Ross
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

What is The Hunger Games about?

Think Roman gladiatorial contests crossed with “Lord of the Flies” in a futuristic setting. A corrupt national government, angling to both entertain its impoverished citizens and keep them in line, hosts a televised “fight-to-the-death” contest between 24 unlucky young people. Based on the crossover YA book phenomenon of the same name, The Hunger Games follows Katniss Everdeen, a grim young woman with prolific hunting skills, who is the sole support of her fatherless family. She needs to return from the games, or else her family may starve.

Should I read the book before seeing the movie?

There seems to be a divide in the reviews for The Hunger Games. Adult reviewers who read the book are disappointed by the tone of the film and the botching of certain iconic scenes from the book. Reviewers who haven’t read the book are generally approving of the movie, giving it high marks as a propulsive action-adventure film featuring a worthy female hero.  My advice is: if you want to enjoy the movie whole-heartedly, don’t read the book first. But definitely read it after—it’ll fill in a lot of the plot and character gaps that a 142-minute movie, long as it is, couldn’t hope to cover.

How violent is the film?

In theory the movie should be quite a blood bath. But because the movie is designed to reach the widest audience, age-wise and gender-wise, much of the violence is either offscreen or very fleeting. All the drama is in the chasing, hiding, and surviving. The theme is murder, however, so there is some viciousness and more than a few close-ups of bloody gashes. If you have a weak stomach for violence, this movie probably isn’t for you.

The Hunger Games has a teenage girl as its hero. Is the movie only for teens? Or, maybe, just for girls?

Just as in Planet of the Apes you don’t need to be an ape to feel empathy for the main characters or in Wall-E you care for an animated robot, you don’t need to be a teenage girl to root for Katniss, the proud and brave protagonist of The Hunger Games. She is a classic underdog outsider—man, woman or child, you’ll be on her side. As for the youthful age of the main characters, they are all placed in a dystopian future America where there’s nary a cellphone nor X-box in view—they are not teenagers as we know them today, but rather fierce, agile combatants fit for a movie for adults.

Since this is a sci fi movie, are there any particularly impressive special effects, like there were in Avatar?

This movie has its entertaining high-tech moments, especially when we’re made privy to how the adults design and construct the Hunger Games, but overall it stays close to the ground in gritty reality (Hollywood version, which means lots of shaky camera activity).

How are the actors in The Hunger Games?

While some of the actors may not be exactly how fans pictured the characters, the acting is well done and believable. The two leads, Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) and Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right), bring to life the tough but innocent Katniss and her hometown opponent/romantic interest, Peeta. Some of the other main characters come off a bit sketchy, in both senses of the word, but will surely come more full-fleshed in the sequels. Two standouts in small but pivotal roles are Donald Sutherland as the President and Wes Bentley, as the Mark Burnett–like architect of this murderous reality show.

Speaking of sequels, is it obvious that this movie is part of a series?

The ending to The Hunger Games offers both closure and a clear signal that there is more to come. But if you’re afraid that you won’t get a full viewing experience in this first episode, rest assured that you get your money’s worth—and may very well want to come back for more.

Will I need tissues?

Unlike in the book, no.

My Reel Answers column aims to boil down film reviewing to its essence: answering questions (without divulging key plot points) you might have about a popular movie before plunking down your hard-earned money to see it.

Please visit http://reelanswers.net to see past movies and DVDs I’ve reviewed, and let me know what questions you have about upcoming movies that I can answer.

When not watching and reviewing movies, I run a consulting business helping successful creatives ramp up their online presence via websites, ebooks, and social media at Laura-e-Kelly.com.         —Laura

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