I can’t believe that it’s been ten years since the film adaptation of The Hunger Games came out. Time sure does fly for a cultural phenomenon. My sister had been a fan of these books as well as my younger brother. I have them to thank for this. Of course, we can’t forget the cultural counterpart of the Twilight Saga as well. It is one thing for books to have a poignant fan base. How can such books out of millions of books, let alone successful book-to-movie adaptations, be so loved by the masses? I like to believe story, character, and world-building is the key. Lewis, Tolkien, Patterson, King, Meyer, and now Collins ( and many others) have created timeless stories that evoke so many poignant emotions. Collins created the female heroine of the new generation who breaks the system and changes a nation from a single act of love and ignites change in others to break the oppressive system piece by piece.
I have enjoyed Josh Hutcherson’s performances for years since Little Manhattan, Zathura, Bridge to Terabithia, Journey to the Center of the Earth, RV, Firehouse Dog, and The Polar Express. Josh has grown over the years and has gotten better and better with each film and in life has matured into a fun young man who lives life to the fullest and lives life respectably, embracing the challenges of Hollywood with ease as a child actor to actor. I was intrigued when the announcement was made he was to star in this film as well as newcomer Liam Hemsworth from The Last Song. I hadn’t read the books yet, so the teaser trailer was average at best, but the Good Morning America release of the trailer made my heart stop and allowed me to board the next-big-thing train.
You never know what you are going to get with Jennifer Lawrence. I must re-coin the phrase from Austin Powers: The National Woman of Mystery. Yet on a dime, she bursts out such compelling performances like in Winter’s Bone (which perfectly foreshadows why she got the role of Katniss), Joy, Silver Lining’s Playbook, and The Prequel X-Men Saga. Once X-Men was ignited once more. Lawrence added the icing on top of the cake, thanks to all of the filmmakers, cast, and crew of this film.
Gary Ross, known for writing DAVE for the late Ivan Reitman and then directing hits like Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, sought after the directing gig after his kids read the book and became enthralled with the tale. It also helps to have a great agent who has a sixth sense for great projects. The novel, written by Suzanne Collins, is mostly told from the perspective of the protagonist Katniss Everdeen. Ross thought it was effective to add more scenes with game maker Seneca Crane. By featuring him onscreen, the audience gets a peek behind the machinations of the Capitol and the man pulling all of the strings.
Katniss Everdeen is a girl from District 12 in the country of Panem. It is evident her life is always hanging by a thread due to extreme poverty. Simple things like food on the table, hygiene, safety avoiding the security personnel, the curfews. Then again there was political unrest in Panem, war broke out, the winning side lost and the cost was tragically drastic. We see through the eyes of Katniss what she has to endure. She is a mother to her sister as her mother seems to be in and out of the picture. Lawrence plays each scene with such power. Katniss accepts the bleakness of her life and is angry at the suffering but is driven to keep her family alive especially when it is threatened to break apart.
Josh Hutcherson hits a home run with Peeta Mellark. A son of a baker who has had an eye for Katniss but was wandering ships in the night. He is soft-spoken and kind and has an optimist’s eye amid unloving parental guidance. It’s this small, endearing gesture that plays a major part in Gary Ross’s interpretation. It’s the classic There-is-a-girl-I-like-but-she-has-no-idea-I-exist in a dystopian future. Panem’s grim new future pulls Katniss and Peeta together in the fight to survive.
Enter Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, the guardian angel of the Everdeen family. If you look past the muscular tones and dashing looks (according to testimonials of many fans and not myself…cough cough) Gale respects Katniss for her strength, independence, and District 12 street smarts. He has been there for her all her life. He knows how to survive but you feel Gale is hiding some deep-seated anger toward the dark forces. He is not in the film all that much but his presence is felt as you are made aware of the history and how it might play out in the ensuing films.
Woody Harrelson (Zombieland, Seven Pounds, The Messenger, Now You See Me) is the mentor and puppetmaster who is named Haymitch Abernathy. He has seen firsthand the horrors of the aftermath of the war and the Games itself. He survived it. Now he drinks himself merriment to bury the guilt and nightmarish events of losing mentee after mentee. When Katniss and Peeta fall into his life, Haymitch could care less. But eventually, you want to roll your eyes at this man to maybe there is more than meets the eye to this man to I can’t believe you just did that you jerk face to I get it. To trust or not trust, that is the question.
There are so many great characters in this film. We have the side of the supporters of the Hunger Games philosophy. Some feel sorry that they believe this rhetoric new regime of government. They truly believe they are enforcing change but when the odds are not in their favor, it does not bode well. The wonderfully talented Alexander Ludwig who plays Cato is driven to the cause. He was born into it. This is the way, the truth, and the life. For many others, the sympathy train left the building and fell into a black hole. Particularly one individual. Haymitch Abernathy won the games at the cost of his sanity. He is cursed with having to train new potential champions only to lose every year. His hope has been crushed like many of Panem’s people.
The film cleverly illustrates Suzanne Collins’s vision of how pivotal reality television attracts the masses while seeing the cost of war and how corrupt governments and corrupt people in positions of power affect terror and fear in others for control. And one woman’s will to survive is her family and friend and she stands up in a world where standing up gets you killed and our puppet-master is inspired. Oh, what can inspiration breed? I enjoyed this film and I cried at one pivotal turning point.
I commend Donald Sutherland. I was fortunate enough to buy the complete four-film set and immerse myself in the behind-the-scenes content. There is one featurette where Gary Ross is in awe of the father of Jack Bauer. ( Keifer Sutherland) Donald plays the leader of Panem President Snow. Sutherland gave Ross a letter named Letters from the Rose Garden. It is an essay worthy of a TED Talk that perfectly encapsulates who Snow is as a villain. He breaks down the anatomy of a villain to a science. It is worth reading online or watching. No one else could play this role.
This movie is packed with stars like
Amandla Stenberg (The Hate U Give)
Jack Quaid ( The Boys)
Elizabeth Banks ( Power Rangers)
Lenny Kravitz (rock star)
Stanley Tucci ( Easy A) cleverly shows the shiny yet fake nature of the lavish lifestyle of the Capitol.
They add so much to their characters and fulfill this universe. I have to add that while watching the behind-the-scenes, I noticed someone who was in charge of the stunts and fight sequences. The man is Chad Stahelski. He is best known for being a part of the John Wick franchise and the Matrix as well. It gets better. The costume designer Judianna Makovsky, production designer Phil Messina, and composer James Newton Howard all worked on the critically panned The Last Airbender.
Composer James Newton Howard is truly the music maestro with such a compelling soundtrack. There is something about young adult novels when done right is riveting. A hero or heroine going on a journey to go on a quest to overcome physical and emotional obstacles while resonating with a young audience. Truly powerful those stories can be as the millennials in turn can be their own boy/girl on Fire in their own lives and to the world.
Fortunately, audiences responded with amazing reviews and box office being blown through the roof ten times over.
Three more sequels spawned, and the cultural phenomenon grew to critical mass. It has been a treat to witness love for this world, the cast, and the characters. It is poetic to see how this film holds up in this post-pandemic world. The themes are more relevant now than ever. it is truly a cautionary tale. Suzanne Collins managed to dish out the prequel to this trilogy known as The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes in 2020. The riveting tale shows a young Snow early in the Hunger Games era. Snow is a good-natured fellow, but is caught between a rock and a hard place. He must navigate the changing landscape and mentor the sweetest woman akin to Rue while his morals are tested greatly. Collins is such a good writer you forget who this man becomes and you are convinced this could enter an alternate fantasy reality. The audiobook is worth a listen since the lucky actor to provide his voice is none other than Santino Fontana aka Hans from Frozen.
Lionsgate is smart to have greenlit this film. I look forward to returning to this world and seeing this film, especially the fantastic cliffhanger ending. I think it’s amazing books like Maze Runner, Divergent and Hunger Games exist. They are entertaining, compelling, and cautionary tales to wake up the culture. These types of stories paint a picture of the constant fragility of our world and how we can offer an olive branch to make amends in the years to come.