Movie Review: The Hunger Games

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Hook, line and sinker.

I’ve never read the books that the movie is adapted from, and I wasn’t sure if I would be entertained to see a seemingly simplistic story about teenage gladiators fighting to their deaths on reality TV.  I was wrong.  Perhaps “entertained” is not the right word.  But it’s certainly a sublime movie that leaves a lingering mark.

Set in a disturbing dystophian in a distant future, Panem, with a totalitarian government, the Capitol, mandates that two dozens teenagers, one boy and one girl between the age of 12-16 called “tributes” from 12 districts, be selected from a drawing every year and succumbed to a series of televised games where they would fight for survival.  Kill or be killed.  In the end there’s only going to be one winner, who will be awarded extra supplies of food.

This is the punishment, in the name of honor, from the government handed down to the twelve districts for a failed unrest in the past.  The people in the districts are confined with a wired fence, resigned to their fate, impoverished and exist merely to feed themselves.  With extreme poverty, starvation is a constant companion.

On the other side of the world, with abundance of wealth and power, its inhabitants live in limitless luxury.  Contrast to the grim and gray world of the districts, everything is bountiful and colorful.  Polished halls, fabulous feasts, fantastical makeup and dresses.  People have nothing better to do than watch live talk shows and consider savage sports an entertainment.  The stark contrast between the two worlds, physical and otherwise, have never been greater.  The great disparity between the haves and the have-nots;  poverty and prosperity, oppression and freedom, despair and power.

A brightly cheery handler dressed straight out of “Alice in Wonderland,”, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, “Man on a Ledge“), rounds up her district’s population like leading cattle to slaughter.  Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, “X-Men: First Class“), daughter of a late coal-miner and a skilled hunter, is a girl from district 12 who volunteers herself to participate in the death race, to replace her younger sister, Prim (Willow Shields), who gets picked from the drawing.

Her fellow combatant from the district is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the son of a baker.  He later proclaims his crush in front of a live audience, although it’s not clear at the time whether he’s just playing the game to win the support of the audience, which may translate into “sponsorship” for extra supplies in the game.  The flashback where he tossed a burnt bread to Katniss in the rain reveals a deeper connection between the two, and the bond they forge during the game may prove to be problematic since Katniss is close to another boy back home, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemmsworth).

The first half of the movie is spent on the selection of the tributes, a parade of introductions of Katniss and Peeta along with the other districts’ tributes to the Capitol, an evaluation of each tribute to attract attention, training exercises, pageant-like interviews (Caesar Flickerman, Stanley Tucci) to gain support of the audience, and finally, the game.  It’s explained that tributes could die from anything other than weapons, such as starvation, infection, dehydration or exposure to other things.  Katniss and Preeta are coached by a former champion, a drunken Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and styled by a stylist, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz).

The game, played out in an artificial forest, can be manipulated by the game-makers to suit ratings.  The organizer, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), and his team pull the strings from the control room.  There’s an interesting conversation between him and the President Snow (Donald Sutherland) about control, fear and hope.  When the game starts, I couldn’t take my eyes off of the screen.  With knives, rocks, swords and arrows at their disposal, it’s off to a brutal start.  Alliances form and break, and it’s not easy to tell who’s going to die next and how.  The sound of canon signals that a tribute has died.

Lawrence is superb in her role.  A strong heroine who is smart, brave, independent, resourceful and compassionate.  The way the story goes, I pictured Peeta’s portrayal to be stronger, but Hutcherson is an adequate partner.  Initially Katniss and Peeta’s connection is not apparent, but it’s all changed during some affectionate moments in the cave.  Naturally, there’s always a question on who’s going to be standing last.  After all, for nearly a third quarter of centuries, only one winner is allowed.  But with Katniss in the game, the Capitol may not anticipate someone like her.

The filmmakers did the movie justice by bringing the fantasy to life, as real of a story as it can be.  While it had the potential to be a caricature, it’s executed so well that it turns out to be thoroughly engrossing throughout its 2.5 hours of running time.  It’s both grand and personal.

The Hunger Games is not a game.  In reality, it’s a story about survival.  The sense of dread or danger is ever-present.  The horror of the killings is conveyed just right, with shaky cam and quick cuts at the right moments, without having to resort to gore.

Suffice it to say, I’m hungry for more.  “Catching Fire” is next.  With the completion of “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” riding off into the sunset, this is one series that audience could look forward to.

Copyright (c) 2012. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, travel/lifestyle writer and film columnist. She can be reached at Nathalia owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter:


Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

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