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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Hunger Games are an emotional punch

Published: March 30, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

“The Hunger Games,” an adaptation of the popular book trilogy by Suzanne Collins, premiered March 23 to the incredible success of $155 million. This record-breaking opening is a remark on the series’ considerable fan base, who showed up in droves at midnight premiers across the country, often dressed up as one of the many beloved characters the series has to offer. Riding on the high expectations of thousands of fans, it is quite the relief that “The Hunger Games” was as high-quality a movie as was due its source material.

“The Hunger Games” is set in a future north America, a nation divided into 12 districts, many of which are deeply impoverished; they are ruled in what appears to be a dictatorship or otherwise unrepresentative regime from the shallow and extravagant capitol. As a reminder and reparation for a revolution 74 years before the outset of the story, spearheaded by the now bombed-out-of-existence 13th district, each of the 12 districts must now send two randomly selected children—a boy and a girl—to the capitol to participate in the Hunger Games. Only one child can survive this brutal game of murder and survival, which is watched and celebrated by the capitol’s citizens. It is in this world that our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), has been raised, hardened by hunger and loss. When her younger sister is selected to participate in the games, Katniss volunteers to go in her place, along with her male counterpart Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). Thus, the two become the District 12 tributes for the 74th annual hunger games.

Though the film cut some of the smaller subplots and characters, overall it was highly faithful to the source material, to the great relief of fans. More importantly, “The Hunger Games” carried the same emotional impact of the book, even enhancing it at moments; for example, after the particularly tragic death of one young tribute, there is a poignant shot of the crowd watching in the main square of her home district on massive screens. The camera focuses on a man who is immediately assumed to be the dead tribute’s father, a detail that was never in the book, but whose obvious agony and outcry truly drives home the poignant horror of the games.

The incredible talents of the movie’s main actors only add to the powerful impact and overall quality of the movie. Lawrence portrays Katniss with incredible power and a deep understanding of the character, while Hutcherson’s Peeta is effortlessly sweet. Similarly impressive was Woody Harrelson’s rather comedic portrayal of Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss and Peeta’s drunken mentor, who begins the film content to ignore the two, but eventually comes to care for them just as the audience comes to care for Haymitch. Some of the most comedic lines of the film were delivered to great effect by Elizabeth Banks as the ineffably cheery Effie Trinket. Truly, each and every actor came through for this film, including those not listed here.

“The Hunger Games” was also visually striking; the citizens of the capitol are shown in lurid colors with ridiculous apparel, true to form of their exhibitionist mindset. A major theme of the story is to point the finger at excess and the voyeurism present in our own society; while this message did not come through quite as strongly as it did in the novels, leading to some rather off-point point political debate, the theme was still present and apparent.

Despite the film’s overall quality and emotive impact, it was not without its flaws. For those unfamiliar with the book, the political situation in which the story takes place seems strange and difficult to understand. Several characters who, though they play only a small role in “The Hunger Games,” go on to have important emotive power were cut or shown without names. Additionally, there was an unrealistic lack of blood or gore during the games themselves, and some parts of the film felt slightly lost, with the subtleties of various characters’ relationships becoming lost in the shuffle.

Though “The Hunger Games” has its flaws, particularly in comparison to the book (as every movie adaptation inevitably will), with all things considered it is a wonderful movie. It is most notable for its extreme emotional impact, bringing in just the right sort of detail to make the story truly tragic. Of course, any story about the wholesale yearly slaughter of 23 children, treated as a reality show is tragic, but “The Hunger Games” is particularly poignant as it contrasts the shallow and overly extravagant capitol, who watch the killings with pleasure, betting on their favorites, with the pain of the districts who must watch their children die meaninglessly. This impresses the true horror of the situation on the watcher, and makes the movie extremely powerful.

“The Hunger Games” is an extremely good movie, with the emotional impact to leave theatergoers in tears, though it is not without its comedic moments: namely shots of Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), who watches the romance between Katniss and Peeta develop with extreme jealousy and angst, along with the banter of Effie Trinket and Haymitch Abernathy. Despite the few missteps, the emotional power of the film makes it an undeniable must-see for both fans of the books and otherwise.