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The Hunger Games is an exceptionally faithful adaptation of the popular novel by Suzanne Collins. Her books are about a future where everyone’s version of the Super Bowl is kids battling to the death in an arena once a year.
Normally such a slavish approach to a book as source material would be the kiss of death, but in this case, Collins’ book is so straightforward and simple that it easily lends itself to the no-frills approach taken by director Gary Ross.
Like the book, the movie doesn’t waste a lot of time developing the complexities of an alternate world. It exists in a place where a country, divided into twelve districts, keeps the peace by forcing each of its member states to participate in an annual tournament to the death. Each district must send two young people to participate as tribute, and this year one of the tributes is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence).
It may surprise the uninitiated to learn that, for a movie that revolves almost entirely around an arena where kids must murder each other, the fight scenes aren’t really the highlight of The Hunger Games. Sticking with the approach used by the book the battles are brutal and quick, the deaths swift and in some cases not even shown.
Ross takes that even further by coating his movie in the fog of excessive shaky cam. Maybe this helped them get that PG-13 rating Hollywood so covets. It doesn’t matter.
A further oddity is that for a movie set in a high-tech dystopian future, there’s very little special effects wizardry in use. As the book did The Hunger Games movie focuses primarily on people, people fighting with knives and swords and arrows; and when called for rocks and fists.
The only real indication here that this might be in the future at all is the occasional, extremely brief appearance of a hover ship, or the unusually successful application of lasers in creating an overhead lightshow. Pink Floyd would be proud. You won’t care.
The real point of this story is to push the audience to develop an attachment to Katniss and to a lesser extent some of the supporting characters she has in her corner. The Hunger Games does that well.
It’s simple, but in its simplicity, The Hunger Games finds a way to tell an engaging story and tell it well. Maybe there was a way to take this even further, maybe Ross should have added more of his own touch to Collins’ tale but it works this way, and in the process does what no other movie, let alone a sci-fi movie, had done in a long time, up until The Hunger Games was released.
Remember, Katniss is a girl. And unlike almost every other film you may have seen recently in which the female protagonist is defined almost entirely by who she chooses to date (I’m looking at you Twilight) or worse by the pretty dresses she decides to wear, The Hunger Games presented a strong female character who defines herself.
Years later, Katniss Everdeen is still a hero worthy of adoration and inspiration. If you’re a parent looking for decent entertainment to show your teenage daughter, here it is. The Hunger Games has the feminine hero you’ve been looking for.
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