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‘The Hunger Games’ kills box office

Published: Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 12:05

Hunger Games

Special to The Prospector

As the games begin in Gary Ross’ adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games,” 24 kids take towards stacks of battle supplies in a frantic run. These are kids ages 12-18 fighting for their lives. We learn early on that 23 will die: a disturbing thought that speaks more of desensitized audiences than the filmmakers intent to gloss it over and make good thrilling popcorn fun.

Moral conundrum? Yes, a really well-paced and well-acted one.

The first installment of the three-part series, “The Hunger Games” doesn’t always work as the anti-totalitarian epic it seemingly sets out to be, but its depiction of a tense and thrilling, however disturbing, post-apocalyptic world makes for a better-than-usual young adult book-to-film adaptation.

The film remains fairly faithful to its best-selling source material. Twelve districts and the Capitol make up Panem, a state formed after war, famine, drought and fire destroyed North America. Every year, the Capitol sets up the games, a televised reality entertainment event where a young man and women (the tributes) are chosen from each district to compete against each other to death. There can only be one victor.

Opening the film is the preparation for the reaping, the ceremony where the children are chosen to participate in the games. After her sister is called, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year old from District 12, volunteers as tribute. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is also selected. Katniss is immediately set out to be a tough girl with a troubled past, but lovingly fights to keep her family alive. Lawrence, Oscar nominated for her performance in “Winter’s Bone,” is equally haunting in here. She carries the strength of her character with real emotion while embodying a true rough and tumble, bow and arrow type of girl.

The rest of the cast is also spot on. Elizabeth Banks plays a flamboyant Effie, Katniss and Peeta’s District 12 escort. Hutcherson plays Peeta, Katniss’ underdeveloped love interest, with clumsy, but charismatic fervor. Liam Hemsworth (without enough screen-time), Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz also play their parts well. Unfortunately, there isn’t much character development to grab on to.

In fact, there isn’t much of any development to grab on to but the racing plot.

Why the games are held or why this type of kid-on-kid death match violence is so popular among the Capitol’s audience is glossed over and largely implied. One could assume that the games are a way to further subjugate the poor districts, providing the winner’s district with more food than the others, or that it finds an audience in the upper class by reassuring them of their safety and better-off state. But Ross fails to explain this with any real depth.

Collins, a television veteran (“Clarissa Explains it All”), might have set off to comment on popular media culture. The film borrows from contemporary television models like broadcasting advertising campaigns and playing to the emotions of viewers for ratings/sponsorship. The film succeeds in making such a statement. Before the games, in a sort of press junket, scenes play out similarly to an episode of “American Idol,” Tucci playing an over-the-top Ryan Seacrest while the contestants are interviewed on a brightly-lit stage.

Much of the kid-on-kid violence is overlooked thanks to shaky camera work, which is probably how it earned its PG-13 rating. Not only is the violence out of focus and blurry, so is everything else. The shaky camera and the extreme use of close-ups many times prevents the viewer from fully appreciating this futuristic world we are thrown into. It is an interesting world, but merits a broader look.

Nonetheless, “The Hunger Games” delivers on its tenacity in speed. It is a 142 minute film that never feels that long. With sufficient thrills and a fierce heroine, the film will likely leave fans and newcomers alike satisfied and hungry for more.

3 out of 5 picks.

Andres Rodriguez may be reached at prospector@utep.edu.

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