The Hunger Games

The name of “Panem,” the nation in which Suzanne Collins’ dystopian Hunger Games trilogy is set, comes from the Latin phrase for bread and circuses, so the hype around this film initially struck me as ironic. After seeing the movie though, it’s clear to see what the spectacle is about.

It’s always a challenge to evaluate book-based films independently of their ink-and-paper originals, but Gary Ross’ stellar adaptation makes it easy—The Hunger Games is simply a very good movie. Set in a post-apocalyptic future where a lavishly wealthy Capitol rules over impoverished outlying regions, the film’s portrayal of rural poverty is hauntingly familiar, while the depiction of the flamboyant Capitol society is tangible enough to fascinate without distracting.

The story follows protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as she is plucked from her small coal mining community and thrust onto the national stage in the titular Hunger Games, in which two randomly selected teenagers from each of the twelve outlying districts are pitted against each other in a televised fight to the death. The purpose of the games is to remind the districts of their subservience to the Capitol, and defiance of unjust authority is, sure enough, one of the film’s main themes.

Though centered on some weighty themes, the film is remarkably approachable: strong acting and well-developed characters make for significant emotional engagement. I heard more than a few sniffles from fellow viewers over the course of the film. A few of the relationships, however, could have used a bit more development: nothing is left unexplained, but a little more depth might have been nice.

The movie is long—two hours and 22 minutes—but it flies by, a testament to skillful editing and pacing. Shot entirely in North Carolina, the film also boasts immersive and gorgeously imagined scenery. While the jerky, on-the-go cinematography was well-suited to the story, the effect was a little much at times. The special effects were not what I’ve come to expect from big blockbusters, and the score wasn’t what it could have been, but I’ll chalk these up to the film’s (relatively) shoestring budget.

(It’s worth noting that the movie was co-produced by Bryan Unkeless, Trinity ’04, who won the Reynolds Price Award for Scriptwriting as a student at Duke. I guess Theater Studies courses aren’t a waste of time after all.)

I was initially concerned that the book’s first-person narrative style might not translate well to the silver screen, but through skillful use of flashbacks and newscast/commentator vignettes, the filmmakers were able to fill in gaps in the story. The wider, omniscient scope also gave viewers insight into conversations and events that were only alluded to in the book, or were absent altogether. This outside perspective does a fantastic job of reminding viewers of the real-world repercussions of the occurrences in the game’s synthetic environs—probably even a better job than the book. For transcending the thematic power of its action-driven and somewhat pulpy original, the film is praiseworthy, and for combining powerful themes with a moving story, The Hunger Games deserves four stars.

And finally, a review of The Hunger Games review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the importance of this film as a well-executed, high-profile blockbuster with a female protagonist. Sure, there have been woman-driven action hits before, but this feels different—for once, we’re allowed to focus on a strong female lead whose success depends less on her prowess with men and more on her self-reliance and skill with a bow. Eat your heart out, Twilight, there’s a new paradigm in town.


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