MOVIE REVIEW: HUNGER GAMES “CATCHES FIRE” IN BOX OFFICE

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Krishnan Sethumadhavan

The Hunger Games has many Seminole High School students excited.

Krishnan Sethumadhavan, Editor-in-Chief

Director Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games doesn’t need much in the way of introduction. His movie not only succeeds as a faithful adaptation sure to satisfy book loyalists, but it works completely on its own.

The Hunger Games – the first installment of a best-selling trilogy by Suzanne Collins – is set in an uncertain future where North America, rocked by an unspecified apocalypse, has morphed into a new world, known as Panem. This new civilization, in which 12 districts under oppressive rule by a merciless, wealthy Capitol, depicts a subjugated population hiding in plain sight from fear of capture and painful reprisals.

Note the name, Panem, which hearkens back to the Latin “panem et circenses,” which means “bread and circuses.” And so these titular games, by which the Capitol exerts its greatest control and punishment over its satellite districts, are less an annual Olympics and more a callback to the days of gladiator blood sport. Every year, each district must surrender two children – one son and one daughter – to a televised slaughter where 23 will die a painful death and audience will watch and place wagers on the outcome.

There are very brutal events in Collins’ book, but Ross has made a far more palatable movie version, eschewing the author’s sometimes graphic descriptions and forcing the viewer to conjure up their own images of characters’ grim fates. This storytelling economy usually pays off, except for the occasional miscalculation.

Senior Katie Torrey said, “[The Hunger Games] was pretty good, but some parts didn’t exactly follow the book.”

For instance, an early scene in The Hunger Games features what is called “the reaping” – the ceremony in which the children are randomly selected to participate in the games recalls a pivotal scene in which as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) sacrifices herself for the games to save her young sister, Prim (Willow Shields). But what this scene lacks is interiority. Ross cannot tell us how much Katniss, a tough hunter and survivalist, fears for and loves her sister like in the book, and it strips the scene of emotional gravity. Sophomore Peter Maloy said, “I would have to say the reaping scene was the worst scene because it seemed silly without any background information.”

This happens a few times throughout the movie. Understandably, no movie can provide the same level of emotion as a novel, but an adaptation can run into real trouble when it seeks out to offer little more than a checklist of items in the book. When events occur without proper context because of a lack of backstory, it undercuts a movie’s momentum.

This is why Lawrence proves to be just the champion The Hunger Games needs. Whether she’s strategizing, thinking of her poor family, or fending off a would-be assailant, Lawrence effortlessly communicates Katniss’ thoughts, fears, and worries. At her young age, she is blessed (and maybe cursed) with a combination of world weariness and youthful naiveté; her grim responses to expected disappointment are equally as harrowing as her reactions when caught off guard. Freshman Keith Friedrich said, “I really liked the main character – Katniss. She really seemed to bring out the best in the movie.”

Although the The Hunger Games comes packaged as a love triangle between Katniss and two men, the hunter Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) that she leaves behind and the slightly more privileged Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), this is Lawrence’s movie to carry.

In fact, neither Hemsworth nor Hutcherson have much to do in The Hunger Games. But other actors make mincemeat of their supporting roles, particularly Donald Sutherland as the evil President Snow, Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, a less-than-supportive supporter of both Katniss and Peeta, still scarred from his days as a past participant in the games, and Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane, designer of the games. The casting of Lenny Kravitz (done in part because Lawrence befriended his daughter in making the recent X-Men prequel) as designer Cinna feels redundant here, however.

Lawrence is the adrenaline-pumping heart of this movie, making sure that Collins’ dark tale of suffering is ultimately about survival. People may come for the games, but what keeps them tuned in is the triumph of her will.