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The Hunger Games: May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor

Last Sunday I decided to throw on my lucky “Vote Smuggler” shirt featuring Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds and head to the local movie theater to see the blockbuster movie, “The Hunger Games.” According to Rotten Tomatoes the movie has grossed $152.2 million since its release, which isn’t really surprising given the subject matter and the success of the books.

Set in a dystopian future, “The Hunger Games” introduces the audience to 16 year-old Katniss Everdeen, resident of the impoverished District 12 of Panem. Everdeen, a hunter who subsists on the animals she catches in a forest outside of the bounds of her district, also feeds her family and raises her younger sister, Primrose. District 12 is, apparently, a miner town with starving residents and horrible living conditions. The setting paints a fairly bleak picture of the future, which is only reinforced by ruling society.

According to a treaty that was created after some sort of uprising, every year the residents of each district much select, by random lottery, one male and one female between the ages of 12 and 18  to participate in The Hunger Games. This competition is a reality TV show in which the participants fight to the death, with the last survivor declared the victor and showered with riches. When Primrose is selected to participate, Katniss volunteers to go in her place, along with Peeta, the selected male.

Peeta and Katniss travel to Capitol, the effete and decadent capital of Panem, where the games will be held. They must compete in various competitions before the actual start of The Hunger Games to win sponsors and popularity, which increase their chances of survival. While Peeta seems to be a natural at winning over a crowd, Katniss is obviously more contemptuous of Panem and its culture.

One of the most fascinating spectacles of the movie is the action in Panem. The city is massive in scope, and the inhabitants seem to be far removed from the plight of the people in the districts. They dress in gaudy clothes bleeding all of the colors of the rainbow, and none of them spare the makeup and hair treatment. It is, to be blunt, a debauched society. I looked on with disgust as Katniss and Peeta were treated to an overabundance of food as their families and friends in District 12 starved, trying desperately not to think about the amount of food that is wasted in the United States while children in third world countries starve.

A great deal of science-fiction is extrapolative, and “The Hunger Games” is definitely that. Its purpose is to create a bleak future with enough resemblances to modern societies that the audience invariably connects the decadence and horror of Capitol to their own situations. The wasted food that the people of Capitol glut on and the ways in which children are treated as a media commodity with little inherent value are two examples from a movie brimming with things to say.

I think that the main problem with the movie is that it focuses too much on the survival scenes when “The Hunger Games” is underway, sacrificing time that could be spent establishing the cultures of the Districts, Capitol, and the ways in which the characters respond to the different cultures. Haymitch Abernathy, played brilliantly by Woody Harrelson, is underdeveloped as a source of comic relief and disenchantment. I definitely think that they could have cut some of the tree-sleeping scenes and gave characters such as Cinna more screen time.

The movie was, for me, highly unsettling. I haven’t read the books, so I don’t really have a good background to judge the merits of the movie versus the books. I can say that, apart from the underdevelopment of the locations and some of the characters, it was an excellent movie. I was on the edge of my seat nearly the whole time. To be honest, I’m glad that they decided to spare the gruesome details of the deaths; reading about them is one thing, but seeing a teenager die a gruesome death is another. I think that the movie makes its points without having to really get into the gory details.

The most disturbing realization, for me, was that when they adapted the story for a movie, they’re inviting the audience to be a willing observer of the games. Because we have a connection to Katniss and Peeta, we root for them to win and, truthfully, breathe a sigh of relief when they survive a situation or a competitor dies. I didn’t find myself cheering a death, but I didn’t mourn the passing of one of the rather anonymous teenagers from a different district.

As far as the technical aspects of the film are concerned, the only real drawback was some of the confusing camera work. The movie tries to capture the first-person narration of the book, and it isn’t always successful. For instance, the shaking and jarring movements of the scene in which Katniss gets stung by the hybrid wasps were enough to make me dizzy, and it was hard to follow. Otherwise the camera work was fairly standard and uninspiring.

Out of a score of 10, I’d give “The Hunger Games” a 7. It was a thrilling movie, and it did have an interesting message that didn’t really get fleshed out. It does resemble the classic Japanese movie “Battle Royale,” but the themes and subject matter are different enough to set it apart. The movie stands on its own without having read the books, and offers a level of immersion that the book couldn’t.

The movie forces you to watch the 74th annual Hunger Games as a citizen of Capitol might.

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