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I really enjoyed The Hunger Games book (review here) and anticipated the movie with great eagerness (by "great eagerness,' I mean I was looking at its Imdb page every day before the movie's release date was announced). The movie did not disappoint, to say the least. Not only did Gary Ross turn the movie into a wonderful adaptation of the book, he succeeded in turning it into a movie that is art in and of itself.
Jennifer Lawrence glows in the role of 16-year old Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers for her sister Primrose (Willow Shields) when her name is drawn in the annual reaping for the 74th Hunger Games. There are twenty-four tributes, one boy and one girl from each of the twelve Districts, who compete in this televised fight to the death, instituted by the image-obsessed Capitol and forced upon the impoverished Districts after their rebellion.
My greatest worry about this movie was that the filmmakers would overemphasize the (almost nonexistent) love triangle and make it the main focus of the story. To my relief, this did not happen. instead, they concentrated on telling the story through the eyes of the tributes, especially through Katniss. The scene at the reaping is particularly effective through the use of a shaky camera imitating the stumble of a frightened child, and the way in which the camera zooms in on Primrose as she walks up to the platform, and gives a close up to her hands nervously tucking in her "duck" shirttail. We feel Katniss's love, and her decision to volunteer in that little gesture.
Another facet of the movie I found effective was the use of a hallucination Katniss experiences in the arena, which told her backstory: how her father died, and how she became the main provider for her family.
The Games are mandatory viewing all over the country of Panem, and the movie opens with a news broadcast on the history of the Games, giving the feel that we are citizens of Panem, watching the Games. This technique further emphasizes the horror that these children are expected to partake in. While some tributes grow vicious in the arena, Katniss only kills for self-defence, or to give other tributes a more merciful death. There is one moment, when right after she is dropped into the games, she collides with another tribute. They stare at each other in fright for a moment, then both turn and run away from fighting, united in their desire for nonviolence.
Katniss befriends a tiny, innocent tribute from District 11 named Rue (Amandla Stenberg), and she is killed while in the arena. Her death was probably the most poignant moment of the film, as it was in the book. This poignancy is due to Katniss's grief-shattered lullaby that is Rue's last request, combined with the camera adopting Rue's point of view. As her vision fades, we can hear Katniss's voice fading away. Katniss covers her with flowers, before she leaves her. Stenberg gave a wonderfully understated, slightly spontaneous performance as Rue, and really embodied the role. I only wish we could have seen her in more scenes to further build her character.
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The Hunger Games is thought-proving in that the Capitol is obsessed with celebrities and the reality TV show that is the Hunger Games. This movie questions our present-day obsession with media and reality TV shows that prevalently exploit their participants. The Capitol residents see themselves as the pinnacle of society, advancing medicine and technology, and yet switch on the tube to watch gladiator-like fights. Could we become Panem? And if we did, would we even know it?