Movie Mom

Movie Mom


The Hunger Games

posted by Nell Minow
B+
Lowest Recommended Age:Middle School
MPAA Rating:Rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images -- all involving teens
Profanity:Some mild language
Nudity/Sex:Kiss
Alcohol/Drugs:Character abuses alcohol
Violence/Scariness:Constant and intense peril and violence, some graphic, sad deaths, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues:Diverse characters
Movie Release Date:March 23, 2012
DVD Release Date:August 13, 2012

Just as brave and loyal Katniss Everdeen is the heart of the wildly popular series of “Hunger Games” novels by Suzanne Collins, Jennifer Lawrence is the heart of this faithful adaptation.  Director Gary Ross clearly understands the book and what makes its story of a dystopian future world where teenagers battle to the death on a grim reality show so compelling.

Lawrence, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the small independent film “Winter’s Bone,” plays Katniss, who cares for her widowed mother and tender-hearted young sister Prim (Willow Shields) in District 12, a poor mining community that is a part of Panem, the post-apocalyptic totalitarian state that encompasses what is now North America.

Lawrence gives a thoughtful, nuanced performance, showing us the conflicts Katniss feels as she adapts to her new challenges, some of which require her to be even tougher and more stoic than she was before but some that require her to unlock feelings her survival had previously required her to keep secret even from herself.  She has a small dimple near the lower corner of her mouth that transforms her face when she smiles, and she uses it to show us Katniss’ heart as well as her determination.

Panem has an annual “reaping” where a boy and a girl are selected from each district to compete in the “Hunger Games,” a gruesome spectacle the citizens are forced to pretend to enjoy as entertainment.  When Prim’s name is called, Katniss volunteers to take her place.  The other “tribute” from District 12 is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the son of a baker.

They are taken to the Capital City and given luxurious accommodations while they prepare for the Games by trying to win sponsors (who can provide them with supplies) and getting advice from kind-hearted stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and previous District 12 champion Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a cynical man who cannot face training another pair of doomed teenagers without getting drunk. “Embrace the probability of your imminent death and know in your heart that there is nothing I can do to save you,” he tells them.  But as he gets to know Katniss, he cannot help but admire her skill as an archer and he begins to care enough to give her some guidance.

The preliminary activities include an Olympic-style opening parade and the appearance on a gruesome simulacrum of a talk show, where the “tributes” pretend that they are excited and proud to be participating in the Games.  Stanley Tucci is a standout as the oily host with a blue pompadour and a laugh as fake as his teeth.

The preparation stage also gives the participants a chance to get a look at the competition, including some who have spent their lives training in hand-to-hand combat and survival skills.  And Katniss gets a chance to talk to Peeta, who tells her that he does not expect to win, but he wants to prove something.  “If I’m going to die, I want to still be me.”

The “tributes” are released into the woods knowing that in two weeks 23 of them will be dead.  There are some wary and by definition temporary alliances between contestants and at first Katniss thinks that Peeta is helping the others track her down and kill her.  She meets the tiny but spirited and clever Rue (a memorable Amandla Stenberg), who saves her life.  The days go by, cannons firing to mark the deaths of the participants, and as there are fewer and fewer left, it is harder to stay alive.

Production designer Philip Messina provides some striking visuals, particularly in the Capital City, but more important is the way the design helps shape the story, from the grimy poverty of District 12 to the heightened artificiality of the Capital City, the ultra high-tech control center, and the sometimes deceptive naturalism of the forest where the Games take place.  The settings frame the story well and the action scenes are exciting, even visceral.  And Lawrence keeps pulling us into the story, making its most outlandish elements feel real and meaningful.

Parents should know that this is a dystopic story about a brutal fascistic society where teenagers engage in gladiator-style combat to the death with constant peril and characters injured and killed, some graphic and disturbing images, adult character abuses alcohol, some mild language, and a teen kiss.

Family discussion:  What does the hallucination tell you about Katniss?  What does Peeta mean about staying himself and how does he do that?  What is the best advice Katniss receives?  How are Cinna, Effie, and Haymitch different in the ways they try to help Katniss and Peeta?

 

If you like this, try: the trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins



  • Kevin L.

    Two asides on The Hunger Games: When I first heard of the book, two things came to mind: “Battle Royale” and “The Long Walk”, both of which share much with “The Hunger Games”.

    “The Long Walk” is one of Stephen King’s novels that he published under the pseudonym Richard Bachmann. (“The Running Man”, which also bears similarities, was another.) Like “The Hunger Games”, “The Long Walk” concerns a televised national annual event where 100 boys (two from each state) compete in a marathon walk down the east coast. Competitors who fall or walk too slowly are executed; the winner is the last survivor. Recommended.

    I know “Battle Royale” only by reputation because, until yesterday, the only way to get it in the US was to buy a bootleg copy. In this 2000 Japanese movie, 42 ninth graders are dropped on a remote island with a variety of weapons and instructions to hunt down and kill each other. A top ten movie in Japan, it is unclear whether the producer refused to distribute it in the US, or no US distributor wanted this hot potato post-Columbine. Apparently, Anchor Bay decided “The Hunger Games” coattails will be long enough to make it worth their while.

    • Nell Minow

      Kevin, I never heard of “Battle Royale” until this week and am very intrigued. I didn’t know about “The Long Walk.” I was thinking also of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and of films like “Gattaca.” Let me know what you think when you see “Hunger Games.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jestrfyl

    As I read about “the reaping” I couldn’t help but think of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”. In some ways these books seem like an extension of Jackson’s short story.

    • Nell Minow

      Yes, jestrfyl, I thought of “The Lottery,” too, when I read the book and especially when I saw the reaping scene in the movie. I’m a big Shirley Jackson fan — you should be sure to read her hilarious short story, “Charles.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Nell

    I immediately thought of Stephen King’s, The Long Walk… I cant wait to watch this movie.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Randy Masters

    Terrific review, Nell.

    I read all three books, and can’t wait to see the movie this weekend.

    • Nell Minow

      Thanks, Randy! I look forward to hearing what you think about it!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment LJ

    Can you comment on what age you think is appropriate to view the movie. My middle schooler (fifth grade, almost 11 yrs old) has a few friends who will see it and we are not letting him go and haven’t let him read the book yet either. I haven’t read the book, but am relying on the advice of others who have and different articles I’ve read about the move–seems pretty intense. Many thanks.

    • Nell Minow

      LJ, every child is different, but I am recommending it for 13 or 14 and up, especially if they have not read the book. As I said in my review there are intense and disturbing images. A spear pierces a chest. There are graphic wounds and very sad deaths. I know this is going to be a tough one for parents of 10-13-year-olds and there will be a lot of pressure on kids and their parents.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Scott

    Intense and disturbing images, yes. But truth be told, I was quite impressed with the filmmakers’ ability to imply that there are some violent actions happening without actually showing it. You never actually see the spear going through the girls chest, do you? Or the spear afterwards even? I can’t recall.

    While I was reading the book, I thought to myself – “wow, this has the makings of a great movie all over it, but HOW are they going to manage that without a R rating?” But somehow they managed to do it.

    So is it lends the question of whether graphic violence is always necessary as some people keep implying. Which is something the movie is critiquing in a way which may have been missed by some people. What do you think, Nell?

    If a child can handle Star Wars, I believe he or she can certainly handle this, but it is certainly something to be decided on a child-by-child basis. There are some really rich themes in this movie and I love that Katniss is such a strong, confident young woman who isn’t emotionally dependent on a man in her life. The … “anti-Bella,” if you will. :)

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment grok87

    Hi Nell,
    Good review- just saw this with my teenage boys. The other comments I would add is that even though the movie is quite long at 2hrs 22 minutes, it did not feel long. I liked the movie a lot but found some of the camera work in the fight scenes unworkable-basically too fast to watch. Seems to be the trend in a lot of these type of movies these days- I don’t get it!

    Also for those who like the Hunger games series but are looking for books pitched a bit younger in age (say 8-11) Suzanne Collins has another great series called the Gregor the Overlander series…
    cheers

    • Nell Minow

      Thanks, grok87! Agree completely with your comments and had not heard of the other Collins books, thanks!!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment shannon

    You have got to be kidding me… You gave tis a B+ ?! Especially the part where Movie Mom said the people that read the books were going to be extremely pleased with the movie. NOT!! I was sooo very disappointed after reading the books.

    • Nell Minow

      Thanks, Shannon. I’m so sorry you were disappointed and would really like to understand what you thought was missing or misinterpreted. Part of what makes books so important to us is that our interpretations are so vivid and personal. So some fans are bound to be disappointed. But the movie was very faithfuk to my reading of the book. I love it when people post comments that let me see a movie through their eyes, so please tell me more.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Jerry Caplin

    Hi Nell!! My ten year old daughter read all the books and waited impatiently to see the movie tonight. We all enjoyed it thoroughly despite the double helping of violence, and parts of the movie are extremely moving. I did think to myself that we never would have let our oldest girl see this when she was 10; her upbringing was far more protected. Trying to keep pace with her three older siblings, and the difficulty for parents of keeping everything age appropriate, lowered the barriers for kid #4. (but we still wouldn’t have taken her to the movie without having read and discussed the books first)

    • Nell Minow

      You are a great dad, Jerry! You made the choice that was right for your daughter and your family after carefu, research and consideration. I love your comment, thanks!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Carol

    Both my girls wanted to go. I hope the impulse has passed, as my husband and I went to see it tonight, and had to leave early. It was too much for both of us. My husband literally nauseous from the jarring camera work. There is much to admire in heroine and in the movie, but it left me profoundly saddened by what we are presenting to our kids as entertainment. I walked out of that movie feeling I had escaped prison. I looked up at the stars, so grateful I didn’t have to be “there” one more minute.

    • Nell Minow

      Thank you, Carol. I am really glad you went to see it so you know you are making the right choice. I suspect, though, it is not an impulse and it will not pass as this movie has, for better or worse, a cultural prominence that makes wanting to see it more than curiosity — it is an element of social interaction, the subject of a lot of peer pressure.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Carol

    Good reminder. My younger daughter, a voracious reader, has read the three-book series. The older daughter just began the first book. I’m hoping that will hold them for now, but if not, I’m open to them going, so long as they can leave early, as we did. Maybe it would be easier to watch on a small TV?

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Marilyn

    Hi, Nell. I apologise if this is a little off topic, but I have a more general question about books and movies. My daughter is 11.5 years old, and is becoming a voracious reader, partly because there is a huge teen market for books now, with major movie tie-ins inevitably following. The Hunger Games trilogy swept her school, so when the movie came out it would have been very challenging to hold her back from seeing it. After some thought and research, I did allow her to go. I read the books and saw the movie as well, and we’ve had several good discussions about both the book and the movie. I trust your judgement on movies, and appreciate your values, consistency, and insight. My question is this: Are you aware of a “Book Mom” out there somewhere? I was in the bookstore tonight with my daughter, and there was a dizzying number of hyped-up books for pre-teens and teens. (And popularity does not equal quality.) I’m looking for a source of insightful teen book reviews with a “parent’s eye” so I can help my daughter choose wisely. Any ideas? Thank you!

    • Nell Minow

      Thanks for a lovely comment, Marilyn. Your daughter is lucky to have you. For guidance on books, try http://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews. The reviews on Amazon and your local YA librarian will also help.

  • Patrick

    I got to agree with you that the movie adaptation of a book is sometimes not we expect or hope for. It makes us feel disappointed but as for the Hunger Games, I must say that it’s pretty what I hoped for in the movie. I left the theater not disappointed.

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