Not since the “Harry Potter” or “Twilight” books has there been such an anticipated movie for teens. Suzanne Collins’ 3-book series starts here with her teen heroine, Katniss Everdeen (played to perfection by Jennifer Lawrence) as a strong willed, yet vulnerable hunter/tracker living in poverty-stricken District 12.
America, following an unknown apocalyptic event, has been categorized into 12 Districts where, for reasons never fully explained in the movie, they hold a lottery (or “reaping”) every year of only young children and teens. Katniss volunteers herself to protect her chosen little sister, Primrose (Willow Shields.) A pair (boy and girl) from each district is then taken and sent to the Capitol, a shiny city of chrome and steel where the denizens all look like “Wizard Of Oz” outcasts. Weird.
Katniss’ companion and chosen partner from home is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) who has a bit of a crush on Katniss, but must contend with staying alive at the moment. Their mentor is a wonderfully loopy Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, a frequently inebriated surfer dude-ish who dispels survival advice along with Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket (who looks like an escapee from “Alice in Wonderland”) who acts as their escort.
The first hour of the film deals with Katniss and the others training, the world watching their progress (like “The Truman Show”) and TV interviews with a bombastic Hunger Games TV host, Ceasar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci in a blue hairdo–perfect–and strangely reminiscent of Richard Dawson’s Killion from “The Running Man.”) Another nice piece of casting is Lenny Kravitz (yes, THAT Lenny Kravitz) as Cinna, her personal stylist and friend.
Anyway, the second hour of the film is where the fun happens: The 24 kiddies get to kill each other to stay alive and live another day. Taken to a hi-tech, wired domed forest, the kids are let loose but Katniss, taking the high-road, decides to wait out the butchering and just survive… but that makes for poor TV watching, doesn’t it? So it’s up to HQ to “up the ante” and push the stakes.
Katniss soon teams up with Peeta and the pair become TV sweethearts, much to the chagrin of President Snow (Donald Sutherland.) He doesn’t like underdogs, y’see.
Meanwhile, the viewers at home (sponsors) can send you gift parachutes with food or medicine if they like you. Isn’t that sweet? In the end, the children are offed one by one and Katniss survives (after all, she HAS too – two more books, two more movies, remember?) But will everything be okay back home with her former BFF Gale (Liam Hemsworth?) And what about Peeta?
Directed by Gary Ross (“Big,””Pleasantville,”) he delivers a fine, albeit herky-jerky film that jumps around frequently leaving plotholes and terrible fight choreography scenes. Three screenwriters (along with “Hunger Games” novelist Collins herself) are credited with this and they probably had a difficult time condensing a rather ponderous book into this 2 1/2 hour first film.
Not as teen-angsty as the “Twilight” crop (thank God!), but not as much fun as the “Potter” world either. One has to wait to see if parts 2 and 3 will deliver better plot devices and stories that this opening one.
BATTLE ROYALE: (2000)
In the question of “what came first?”, this is the answer. “Battle Royale,” a Japanese-made film that, for the most part, DOES parallel “Hunger Games” in many respects. Made on a small budget and banned in many countries because of its overt brutality, it gained a cult status and, thanks to “The Hunger Games” similarities, has once again been thrust back into the limelight.
The story contents that, for some unexplained reasons, the Japanese government holds a yearly Battle Royale where a bus load of high school teens are unknowingly gassed and whisked away to a deserted island and forced by a sadistic teacher named Kitano to do battle with other. Kitano explains to the class of 35 that they have been chosen to participate in this year’s Battle Royale and are all shown a cutesy orientation video (a real delight) that explains to the class why, for three days, they MUST kill each until only one student remains. Students resistant to the rules or entering one of the randomly selected “death zones” each day will be killed by the collar’s detonation ring they all wear around their necks!
Each is given a random bag of food, compass, and some kind of a weapon, and must fend for themselves in this horrible game of kill or be killed. Some hook up with friends, others strike out on their own, and still others are blood-thirsty second timers who are just there for the “sport”.
So, the game is on, and one by one the teens off each other by bullets, machetes, knifes, homemade bombs, arrows, etc. There’s lotsa blood, decapitations, and all you’d expect in this wild ‘n’ woolly game where teen angst is put to the ultimate test…with weapons! The ending, a real head-scratcher, opened it up for a sequel.