The Hunger Games 
Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth
Runtime: 142 Minutes
I don’t know what’s more shocking — the fact that a movie about kids killing kids has been a monster box office smash, or that author Suzanne Collins claims to had never heard of the Japanese cult hit, Battle Royale, before writing The Hunger Games. Of course, stories about people killing people for the sake of sport are hardly anything new. Before Battle Royale, there was The Running Man, and shortly after its release came Series 7: The Contenders. While an intriguing concept, it is amazing that such a violent storyline was written with young adults in mind.
Set in a dystopian environment, The Hunger Games shares its name with an event set up by a repressive government. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, are selected from each of twelve districts via a lottery to become participants (or “tributes”) in the games. The goal is to be the last person standing. If not, you’re dead.
We follow Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old who boldly volunteers to take the place of her sister Primrose (Willow Shields), who was initially elected to participate. The other tribute from her district is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who we later find out is in love with Katniss. Since The Hunger Games event is presented as a television broadcast, the creators try to stir up a romance between these two for those watching in the districts. In fact, the creators have full access to the games and can alter the environment in order to pique the interest of its viewers. This adds an interesting dynamic to what is essentially a spectacle of murder.
Although 24 children are selected as tributes, we really only get to know two (Katniss and Peeta). This fits in line with the idea that nearly all of them will die, but it does not translate well to the film. When one minor character is killed off, director Gary Ross tries desperately to tug at our heartstrings, even going so far as to show an extended, impromptu burial. While fans of the books may appreciate this scene, it felt forced to me and I was rather apathetic about it all.
The Hunger Games is a PG-13 movie, which is a tad peculiar considering its violent concept. Ross is able to get away with this in part because of the sped-up action scenes. We rarely get a clean look at any deaths mainly due to an overreliance on “shaky cam” techniques. Some of the fight/action scenes are almost unbearable to watch because of this, and it is hard to tell what is actually happening. I get the reasoning for going PG-13, but I can’t help but feel the movie would be improved if the action sequences were better executed (i.e. more graphic, matching the theme of the story).
The movie’s greatest asset is its cast, led by the surprisingly badass Jennifer Lawrence. Her stock has been rising steadily over the last couple years, but this role has just taken her to another dimension. I can’t think of a better lead for this film. Other noteworthy inclusions are Woody Harrelson as an alcoholic mentor, Stanley Tucci as the vastly entertaining MC of the broadcast, the stern Donald Sutherland as President, Elizabeth Banks as the eccentric Effie Trinket, and Lenny Kravitz as fashion extraordinare Cinna. Even Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are competent in their roles.
While I don’t quite get all of the hype surrounding The Hunger Games, I still enjoyed the film well enough. The lack of character development is disappointing, as is the overuse of the shaky cam, but underneath there is still an absorbing sci-fi story with a unique dystopian setting.