Opening 22 Mar 2012
Writing credits: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray
Principal actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley
This powerful film will stick with you for days. The books by Suzanne Collins on which the film is based are huge bestsellers around the world and the film will be equally popular. Young adults will see courage, sacrifice, loyalty, hope, love, sexual equality, strength, and perhaps themselves. Cynical adults will see gladiators, the Holocaust, reality TV shows, Lord of the Flies, blatant manipulation for profit, Robin Hood and the Houston Space Center.
The country of Panem (a kind of USA recovering from debilitating wars) is divided into 12 districts, each district responsible for some part of the economy, but only the people living in the capitol benefit from the work. Everyone else is bereft without any chance for improvement. Once a year the names of a boy and a girl from each district are drawn from a lottery (called “the reaping”). The 24 candidates (called “tributes”) go to the capitol to train in martial arts with the goal to eventually fight against each other until there is one survivor. This champion may then live in luxury and make the home district proud.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) from District 12 (the district responsible for coal mining) is 16 years old. When her younger sister, Primrose, is chosen for the upcoming 74th Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to take her place instead, well knowing that it is a suicide mission. She and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the male winner, take the train to the capitol, accompanied by their chaperones, Effie and Haymitch (Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson). There they are welcomed with unheard of riches starting with delicious food and silken beds. After training, they are introduced to the public on a talk show similar to “American Idol,” and then let loose in an uninhabited wooded area (filmed in North Carolina) to find their weapons and basically kill each other. Every time one young person dies (13 in the first eight hours), a cannon booms in the background until there are only two candidates left.
If this sounds gruesome, it is, and the frequent close-ups add to the tension. In Germany the film opens to 12 years and older, although I would say that 15 is a recommended age. The tension rises, not only with each death, but with each unexpected bump in the plot. Naturally, you know that Katniss will survive, after all this is a trilogy, but still you worry. I must give the director Gary Ross credit though, because seldom is anyone actually murdered on screen and there is little bloodshed, if that’s any consolation. The actors are totally convincing: Lawrence (who played in Winter’s Bone) captures your attention throughout. Harrelson is someone to hate and then to accept. Banks gets first prize for wearing the most original costumes and wigs – straight out of Alice in Wonderland – in fact, all of the costumes are enough to see the film several times (costumes by Judianna Makovsky). Lenny Kravitz as Cinna who stands by Katniss through her difficulties is perfect. Most amazing is Stanley Tucci who plays Caesar Flickerman, the talk show host who looks like a cross between Jon Stewart and Karl Lagerfeld.
The film will be a topic of conversation for a long time to come, so you’d better get with it so that you can give the three-fingered salute and wish “May the odds be ever in your favor.” I talked to a 10-year-old girl in Brooklyn this week. She has never seen the film nor read the book because her mother thinks she is too young. Her first comment was, “Are the tracker jackers really deadly? Rue dies by being stabbed with a spear. Right?” There will be fan clubs and related products for sale soon, e.g., jewelry shaped like a mockingjay pin I would expect. The soundtrack does not disappoint and is on sale. Babies for years to come will be named Katniss. (Becky Tan)