Nature abhors a vacuum, and now that the Harry Potter series has ended and Twilight is winding down, it's only fitting that a new franchise has begun. As an avid fan of The Hunger Games, the series by Suzanne Collins, (who also co-wrote the screenplay) I awaited the movie in great uneasiness and anticipation. After seeing what Hollywood had done to another favorite book of mine, "The Golden Compass" — I was trying not to get my hopes up. Happily, I can now say there was absolutely no reason for me to worry. The movie makes changes where it needs to, but mostly it is obsessively faithful.
The Hunger Games takes place in the distant future in the country of Panem, once North America. It follows the adventures of 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who resides in the remote, impoverished District 12. As punishment for a past rebellion, all districts are required to send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to the Capitol to fight to the death on live television until only one remains. When Katniss's sister Primrose is chosen, she volunteers to go in her place.
As Katniss, Lawrence radiates the same determination and grit that she showed in Winter's Bone, and she portrays a character that is fierce, resourceful, sometimes compassionate, yet real. The supporting cast, which includes Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, and Lenny Kravitz, bring the same intelligence and believability to their characters and complement her wonderfully.
The opening scene sets the tone for the stylistic choices of a movie that doesn't talk down to its audience. The scenes of rural poverty are natural and refuse to be sentimental or condescending. The pattern is repeated when Katniss travels to the Capitol, and we see a pampered society of elites that treats the bloody spectacle to come like the best reality show in the world. Each contestant is interviewed on a talk show, and they manipulate the mob to get sponsors who can give them gifts in the arena, and love becomes merely a survival tactic.
When that spectacle unfolds, the movie shows the limits of its PG-13 rating, but the inevitable scenes where children attack and kill each other still feel painful and make you flinch. (But since it has to pull so many punches, it only makes you flinch, not cry.) It's a credit to the movie that a society that would allow this and watch every minute of it still feels believable.
Since the entire book takes place from the perspective of Katniss, the film's scenes that take place outside of the arena are all the more impressive and spot-on. This isn't the first movie with this kind of premise, but it's one of the best. Most of the limitations the movie has can be attributed to its rating and the teen fiction genre. See this movie; you won't be disappointed.
REVIEWER RATING: A-