“First place wins a life of privilege and riches. There is no second place.”
This Lionsgate film presents a compelling adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling first book, which was published in 2008. There are two more books in the series Catching Fire and Mockingjay, so expect to see two more film sequels in the near future. The film, directed by Gary Ross, exudes an intelligent quality, engaging drama, and compelling scenarios about a futuristic world in North America called Panem where a teenage boy and girl are chosen by lottery from each of the 12 districts then engage in a televised survival battle in the woodlands.
The overall concept is compelling, but filmmakers still had to choose what could be removed from the dense book and to emphasize and carefully balance this 142-minute film for the audience. Too much satire and the actions lose realism…too much blood and gore and lose the teenage audience (via the PG-13 rating). Filmmakers succeed on both fronts with subtle touches of satire and brutal, but fairly bloodless battles.
Jennifer Lawrence headlines this star-filled action drama as the strong female hero Katniss Everdeen who is willing to make extreme sacrifices for family and society in a very slighted world. Katniss, a coalminer’s daughter, does not have the extensive interior monologue in the book as filmmakers make more time for the intriguing scenarios and fast paced action. Other noticeable differences include the acquisition of a certain pin and the genetically modified dog-like creatures called ‘muttations’.
Donald Sutherland plays President Coriolanus Snow who rules Panem and treats these games with an odd aura, even putting the adjective “happy” before the event name while announcing it. In this world, the “Hunger Games” are an Olympic-type event facilitated by a group of eclectic characters including the emcee Caesar Flickerman, well played by the always impressive Stanley Tucci; Seneca Crane, played by Wes Bentley; Effie Trinket, played by Elizabeth Banks, and Claudius Templesmith, played by the talented Toby Jones who is underused a very limited role.
Woody Harrelson plays the teenagers’ boozy mentor Haymitch Abernathy and Lenny Kravitz impresses as Cinna who also helps prepare the teenage “tributes”. The young tribute men are played by Josh Hutcherson (Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) as Peeta Mellark, Liam Hemsworth (The Last Song) as Gale Hawthorne, Alexander Ludwig (Race to Witch Mountain) as Cato, and Jack Quaid (son of Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan) as Marvel. Amandla Stenberg (Columbiana) has a star making role as the memorable Rue, one of the youngest tributes.
This film is highly recommended and offers a strong experience with great originality, though some audiences might recorgnize elements from previous works like Brave New World, Rollerball, The Running Man, and Battle Royale. Rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens. Director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) is planning to helm the second installment in the trilogy, Catching Fire, which is scheduled for a November 2013 film release.