‘The Hunger Games’ (2012) Review

The Hunger Games

When The Hunger Games (2012) was released, it was met with praise and became an instant hit. Even though shares a lot of similarities to that of Battle Royale (2000), The Hunger Games had storylines and plot points that felt refreshing, which gave it an edge and made it stand out from other young adult novels that were getting movie adaptions at the time.

The story begins at an unspecified point in time in the future with dystopian and post-apocalyptic elements scattered throughout the world. Most people have been living in poverty, where they are starving and depraved of food whereas others are living a rather lavish lifestyle and rely on an overabundance of technology. At one point, there was a war — described as an “uprising” that ultimately failed — and in the aftermath, the continent of North America was then renamed Panem and has been divided into 13 districts ruled by the Capitol. As a result of the uprising, the Capitol has instituted something known as “The Hunger Games”.

The Hunger Games borrows a lot of cliché tropes from the science fiction genre but it also has a very unique concept in and of itself: every year, there is an annual event that picks one boy and one girl from the ages of 12-18 from each district and throws them all into an arena where they are forced to hunt each other to the death until a one sole victor remains. The district that the victor hails from is then rewarded with food and necessities. The process then repeats as the Hunger Games are meant to remind the citizens of the failed uprising.

Plot Summary

The day has finally come for what is known as the “Reaping”, an event that has all of the districts children line up in the center in the square and two are picked at random to enter the Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is 16 years old, and for every year that she — or anyone else — doesn’t get picked, the amount of times her name gets put back into the bowl is doubled. Hence the phrase; “may the odds be ever in your favor”.

This year, Katniss’ little sister Primrose (Willow Shields) has finally come of age and her name has been submitted into the Hunger Games for the first time. Prim is terrified of being chosen, but Katniss assures her that because her name is only in the reaping one time that it is unlikely that her name will be called. Of course, that is exactly what happens.

As Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) reaches into the bowl of names and picks one at random, it just happens to be Prim that she calls upon. Katniss, wanting to save her sister from certain death, jumps out of the crowd and insists on taking Prim’s place. She volunteers as “tribute”. Prim is devastated as Katniss takes the stage as the female contestant of District 12 for the 74th Hunger Games, with the male being Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).

Upon their journey to the Capitol, they meet Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), the only other contestant from District 12 who has ever won the Hunger Games. He is meant to be their mentor and they look to him for advice but after years of having both contestants from District 12 die over and over again, he has since chosen to go looking for solace at the bottom of a bottle. Unbeknownst to him, he has been granted with two fighters this year.

During the Games, Katniss doesn’t seem to be too interested with actually killing anybody. She focuses more on surviving, she is able to get a few kills either by accident or in self defense and eventually she makes friends with another tribute, Rue (Amandla Stenberg), from District 11. As the Games progress, there is an announcement that states if the last two remaining tributes hail from the same district, then there will be two victors. This prompts Katniss to track down Peeta, who is injured, and the two of them hide out in a cave in an attempt to both heal themselves as well as try to survive long enough in order to take the fight to the last few remaining tributes.

With only one other tribute left in the arena, it seems like they might be able to pull this off and be able to go home. As they then become the final two, the previous rule about two winners has been revoked and at that moment, they realize that they are then expected to turn on each other. However, they both choose to refuse to give into this “request”.

Instead, both Katniss and Peeta decide that they are going to eat something known as “Nightlock”; a poisonous berry that would kill them almost immediately. This would be devastating because The Capitol needs a winner. They are stopped before the Nightlock touches their lips and are both declared to be the winners of the 74th Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen

Katniss Everdeen is, by every account, an underdog … and who doesn’t love an underdog? Somebody who comes from nothing and is able to defy the odds and emerge victorious. That is exactly the type of character that is able to sell these types of stories and I have to give it to Jennifer Lawrence — especially at this point in her career — she did a great job as Katniss and was absolutely able to sell the character. Even though she played Mystique in X-Men: First Class (2011) the year prior, this was the role that made her a household name.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in District 12, which is the least privileged of all the districts. She and a friend from her district, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), had both lost their fathers in a mining explosion. As the eldest children, they have taken it upon themselves to go out everyday to hunt and gather food for both of their families and this is what is able to give Katniss a leg up in the Hunger Games, as she has learnt how to live off of the land.

After their arrival at the Capitol, Katniss is given a stylist, Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), who is known for its extravagant fashion. He was moved and impressed with Katniss’ bravery for choosing to stand in the place of her sister at the reaping. Cinna has decided that he is going to make sure that she continues to stand out from the crowd so that she continues to be the center of attention. He dresses her and Peeta in a wardrobe that emulates fire — with a fake flame — that emanates off of their backs. Katniss is then dubbed as: “The Girl on Fire”.

Later, as Katniss is being interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), she comes off as extremely awkward as she is not used to all of the attention that she has been receiving and isn’t very good at making people like her. The decision to volunteer in her sister’s place wasn’t for show, but that is how it was viewed by the audience in the Capitol because for them, the Hunger Games is nothing but a source for their entertainment. Peeta, however, is aware of this and he is able to use this to his advantage. He tells Caesar that the girl that he is in love with came with him to the Capitol. This results in Katniss and Peeta being in a “star-crossed lovers” situation, thus making her desirable … and what could possibly be more appealing to a crowd than rooting for young love.

This is a stark contrast when Jennifer Lawrence is being interviewed in real life. She doesn’t need anybody to make her likable, she does that all on her own. She had a sense of humor which gave her a sense of realism and couple that with her good looks, she immediately becomes somebody who grabs your attention. Which might explain just how and why she was able to become as popular as she did and also how movie going audiences in where able to connect with her. Whether she was being truly authentic or just simply playing to the camera, her youthful and playful personality felt like a breath of fresh air that Hollywood seemed to have been severely lacking at that point in time … or at least prior to her arrival.

The Mockingjay Pin

It’s worth noting that Katniss wears a Mockingjay pin during her times in the Games. This isn’t something that is really made a big deal of in this movie but it is a plot point that plays a huge part to play in future installments of the franchise. The mockingjay is fictional bird that lives in the world of Panem and because of Katniss’ wearing it as well as her becoming victorious, the mockingjay would become a symbol that would represent so much more …

Katniss gave it to Prim at the reaping, but then Prim gave it back to Katniss just before she left District 12. As Katniss is being crowned for her win, President Coriolanus Snow (Donald Sutherland), remarks upon the pin to which she informs him that “it’s from my district”.

Of course, little does she know what her actions with the Nightlock would lead to, nor would she realize just how important of a symbol of hope that she would become to those in other districts due to her bravery in the Games, as those actions with the Nightlock would be viewed as a form of defiance that would lead to an uprising against the Capitol.

Differences From the Book

When it comes to the difference from The Hunger Games book getting adapted into a movie script, there hasn’t been too much that has been changed and I’d go so far as to say that it’s actually a very faithful adaption. There are some plot points that have been omitted and then there are some scenes that have definitely been rushed through, but there have also been a few changes that were included when it came to that of the supporting characters.

Considering that the book is told in first person, you get a lot more inside of Katniss’ head than you do in the film. You get to know who she is and what her feelings are regarding the state of the world. So, whereas the book tells everything from Katniss’s perspective, when it comes to changing this aspect of the book and translating it to a movie script, the writers decided to expand on a few storylines and plot points when Katniss is never in attendance.

The book delves a lot more into the “romance” between Katniss and Peeta. Where the film briefly touches upon this plot point, it feels like it comes out of nowhere and doesn’t get focused on or development all that as much. Because of the Hunger Games being a television show or the sake of entertainment, Katniss agrees to go along with a star crossed lovers story between her and Peeta or the sake of gaining sponsors during the games, (people who will send them gifts or items or food in order to ensure their survival). However, what ultimately ends up happening is Katniss starts to get confused about how she truly feels about Peeta and whether or not their romance is just for show or if she is in fact starting to form genuine feelings for him.

Another main difference comes with the Head Gamemaster, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley). This is a character who is merely mentioned a few times in the but gets somewhat of a storyline of his own in the movie, and this is a very good change. With film being the visual medium that it is, this gives the audience an opportunity to see just how the Hunger Games are conducted. By using their advanced technology, they have been able to create a gigantic arena that they are able to manipulate at will, making this a clever expansion.

More often than not, “the book is better than the movie” and more often than not, that is a very accurate statement. But in the case of The Hunger Games it’s different, the movie builds upon and expands on the book in a way that makes it feel more like a compliment rather than feeling as if it’s some type of science project that surgically alters it in any way. Even if you haven’t read the book and have only seen the movie, you’re not exactly getting the full effect of the book but it’s safe to say that you are getting the complete “gist” of it.

Final Thoughts

Without a doubt, The Hunger Games benefited from the wave of young adult novels that were getting movie adaptions in the 2000’s and early 2010’s. Had franchises such as Harry Potter and Twilight not paved the way, it’s uncertain whether or not it would’ve been able to find an audience were it not for the fad which had consumed cinema at the time. It could be argued that this is the last best young adult novel franchise, especially if you consider that both Divergent and The Maze Runner would fail to find the same success with audiences.

Even though it may not be as successful or popular as Harry Potter or Twilight, it was still able to carve out its own place in the young adult novel corner. Whenever The Hunger Games is mentioned, we know exactly what those words are referring to which makes it a success all on its own. I like most of the young adult novel movies but none of them made me want to go out and read the source material. The Hunger Games was different. This movie, and the franchise in general, really spoke to me in a way that the other young adult novel film franchises never could. Maybe it was because of the concept and core themes that made it feel more like the real world.

More often than not, when I consume a book or a piece of media, what I am looking for is for that thing to either make me think, feel something or give me a different perspective that I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. And I feel that, more than anything, is what made The Hunger Games resonate with me … because it felt that it had something worthwhile to say.

Considering how long ago this movie came out and how popular it had became, you have probably already seen it. But if you haven’t, this is definitely one of those movies that is worth checking out as it not only has a stellar cast, but it is also one of those movies that entertains you from start to finish and has absolutely been able to stand the test of time.