At the Movies: The Hunger Games

I don’t read Young Adult novels. I’m too busy reading comic books. So when one of them catches fire — like “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” — I’m out of the loop. Then I just wait for the movie version to come along.

So far I haven’t been that impressed with these phenoms. I liked the “Harry Potter” movies OK but never fell in love with them. My hatred for the “Twilight” series is well documented but I’m confident they’ll turn it around with the last one. At least, that’s what I tell myself to give me the strength to continue.

Which brings us to “The Hunger Games,” the latest YA series to drive so many wild. It’s the first in a trilogy of tales written by Suzanne Collins. Unlike the boy magician or the glittery vampire tales, I was actually interested in “The Hunger Games” for three key reasons:

1) It takes place in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, and I’m a sucker for those; 2) the central character’s weapon of choice is the bow and arrow, like my beloved Hawkeye; 3) Jennifer Lawrence, whom I have admired from such films as “Winter’s Bone” and “X-Men: First Class.”

Looks like my instincts were right. I enjoyed “The Hunger Games” more than the “Harry Potter” films and far more than “Twilight.” My biggest complaint about the movie are all those ridiculous names.

The story takes place in a dystopian future where the remains of our nation is run by the despotic President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland). The land has been divided into 12 districts, some much poorer than others. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in District 12, one of the poorest areas. To help get by, she hunts wild game with her trusty bow and arrows.

Due to a rebellion several years ago, once a year each district is required to send one boy and girl to participate in a last-kid-standing tournament known as The Hunger Games. That’s the central plot, and it’s a bit loopy. The powers-that-be are keeping the citizens in line by forcing their children to battle to the death once a year — and it’s televised? Wouldn’t that just foment more rebellion?

Oh well, best not to think about it. Kids killing kids on television. It’s “The Running Man” — with kids!

When Katniss’ younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) wins the death lottery, older sister volunteers to take her place. Katniss and her male counterpart, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), are whisked off to the capitol to begin training for the big show.

(You get what I’m saying about the names, right? Never again will I make fun of George Lucas. At least Jar Jar Binks has the excuse of being alien. Apparently in the post-apocalypse, only celebrities will get to name people.)

The Capitol is a place of wealth, decadence and questionable fashion choices. The games are run by Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), best known for his impressively styled facial hair. The show’s host is Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci, who’s suitably smarmy but no Richard Dawson).

Assisting Katniss and Peeta with their training are their government-assigned mentors, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and John Smith  (Woody Harrelson). HA! Gotcha! Obviously his name isn’t John Smith, it’s Haymitch Abernathy.

(You know, people give Stan Lee crap for relying on alliteration to name his characters, but at least Bruce Banner and Peter Parker sound like names a human being would give a child.)

After a few days of training and celebrity interviews, Katniss, Peeta and 22 other contestants get dropped off in a virtual reality forest with various weapons and a mandate that only one come out alive.

“The Hunger Games” is a fairly standard Man-is-the-Deadliest-Game story but it’s done with style. The makeup and costumes are suitably offbeat, the future city designs are interesting, the special effects are decent.

The actors are all fine, but like in “Winter’s Bone” it’s Jennifer Lawrence who carries the film. She has such a compelling screen presence you just want to follow her through this ordeal, regardless how silly it may seem.


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