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The odds are in “The Hunger Games” favor

Sam Stryker | Sunday, March 25, 2012

It is one thing to be perhaps the most-hyped movie of the year. It is another to deliver on that excitement – and luckily for the legion of fans of “The Hunger Games,” the film adaptation of the wildly popular novel is a thrill-a-minute blockbuster.

For those of you who live under a pop-culture rock, “The Hunger Games” tells the tale of a post-apocalyptic North America, known as Panem, with twelve districts ruled over by the imposing Capitol. As retribution for their rebellion, each of the districts annually offers up two tributes – one male, one female – to participate in a televised competition to the death known as The Hunger Games – think “Survivor” meets “Gladiator.” The film’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen, and the love-struck Peeta Mellark are chosen as District 12’s tributes for the 74th Hunger Games, where their relationship is tested as they fight to survive the competition. 

Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth star as the love triangle of Katniss, Peeta and Gale Hawthorne, respectively. Lawrence, who grew up in the real-world District 12 of Kentucky, is pure force as Katniss – she takes no prisoners, striking the perfect balance between beauty and toughness. Hutcherson and Hemsworth are strong counterpoints in their roles – Peeta as the outgoing baker’s son, and Gale as Katniss’ brooding hunting partner. Move aside, Edward and Jacob – Peeta and Gale aren’t just eye-candy, but they kick some butt as well.

The action in the arena is fast-paced, despite the film’s 142-minute running time. While this may be long, and the camera handling was at times shaky, “The Hunger Games” truly captures the spectacle author Suzanne Collins portrayed in the novel. The film respects both the epic scope of the event and the real people who not only compete in the games, but also enact them in the first place. We even go behind the scenes of the event, into the Game-makers control room, an inspired addition to the film.

Capitol babysitter Effie Trinket, alcoholic trainer Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss’ stylist Cinna and the nefarious President Snow round out the colorful cast of supporting characters. While Katniss, and to some extent Peeta and Gale, is the focus of the movie, the supporting characters, in particular Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) provide some comic relief to a film already sizzling with tension. An uproarious cross between Lady Gaga and Miss Manners, Effie steals every scene she is in. Haymitch, while not as developed a character as he is in the novel, nevertheless provides support to a lost Katniss and Peeta while also milking his own sad-sack ways for a few laughs.

Fans of the novel will not be disappointed. Collins was brought on to help write the screenplay, and it shows. In terms of plot, very little fails to make it from the book to the movie. Even more of the relief is director Gary Ross didn’t try to add too much that wasn’t in the book. This was a smart move – the lack of tampering allows for the roller-coaster experience of reading the novel to make the transition to the big screen with ease. One thing that does not translate as well, however, is the development of the characters’ personalities. Despite the long running time of the film, the connections between the gallery of “Hunger Games” figures never seems fully-developed. However, this is not a film made for awards season – what it lacks for in emotional depth, it makes up with in over two hours of sumptuous costumes, crackling action and beautiful people.

Even for those who haven’t read the book, “The Hunger Games” is not just an awe-inspiring popcorn flick. The movie is a remarkable commentary on what young adults struggle with – newfound responsibility, human loss, romantic troubles – all the while juxtaposed against a sick envisioning of our reality television obsessed, 24-7 media cycle-crazed modern culture. Katniss is an inspiration to viewers to stand tall, keep our head held high and march on. The action and beauty of the “Games” may draw viewers in, but the film was a reminder of the strong characters that made the book so great. So volunteer as tribute to see “The Hunger Games” as soon as you can, and may the odds be ever in your favor.

Contact Sam Stryker at sstryke1@nd.edu