The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The Odds are in Favor of ‘The Hunger Games’

“It’s a television show.” These are the words spoken to Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl preparing to fight to death in a televised competition, and these are also the words that dominate the movie adaptation of “The Hunger Games.”

“The Hunger Games,” based on the popular novel by Suzanne Collins (who also helped write the screenplay), takes place in Panem, a country comprised of 12 districts united under the Capitol. Following an unsuccessful revolution, each of the districts must send two “tributes”—one male, one female—to fight to death in the televised contest from which the movie draws its name.

Katniss, the heroine and her family’s bread-winner (in more ways than one), volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the games. She is joined in the arena by Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son and one of her eventual love interests.

Fittingly, in its adaptation to the screen, “The Hunger Games” has also adapted to focus more on the culture of television. Unlike the book, which is told solely from Katniss’s perspective, the movie also focuses on the behind-the-scenes aspect of the games, and on the viewers back home. Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), the mastermind behind the games, is promoted to a major character, and the backstage drama is interspersed with the bloodbath in the arena.

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Speaking of Seneca Crane, who possesses the most magnificent beard ever to grace the silver screen, the nature of the Capitol has been somewhat tweaked from the books. The fashions are more garish. The talk-show host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) is a grinning caricature.

This isn’t a bad thing; the Capitol and personalities like patriotic, simpering Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) and sarcastic drunk Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) add a level of cutting humor to the film, and keep it from becoming overly serious.

Still, fans of the book will be pleased to find that “The Hunger Games” basically stays loyal to Suzanne Collins’ dystopian story. The movie is aimed toward readers: It provides minimal backstory while making minimal changes to plot. Many details, such as the stylist Cinna’s (Lenny Kravitz) gold eyeliner, made it into the film.

However, the movie does sacrifice some of Katniss’s most poignant interactions with minor characters. It is Prim who gives Katniss the iconic mockingjay pin, not Katniss’s friend Madge. Rather than sending Katniss symbolic seeded loaf, the people of District 11 rise up in revolt. And the mutant dogs that attack the final surviving tributes no longer resemble the dead tributes.

Details like these fit into the movie’s larger fascination with television, as it ultimately tells the story of a game, not a girl. The movie is not told from Katniss’ perspective, so while there’s more going on in the world outside the arena, there’s less focus on the relationships she develops.

Character-wise, the flaws in “The Hunger Games” don’t result from shallow acting. All of the tributes feel genuine and fully-developed. Disappointingly, though, viewers don’t get to spend much time with them. Even major characters, like Rue (Amandla Stenberg), the adorable girl from District 11 whom Katniss befriends, are introduced all too briefly. The only characters audiences get sufficient time with are Peeta and Katniss.

“I’m not good at saying something,” Katniss says at one point in the movie, and it’s certainly true that most of Katniss’s speech is awkward and strained. She may be the face of hope for Panem’s people, but she certainly isn’t its voice. Fortunately, Jennifer Lawrence’s strength lies in her non-verbal acting. She manages to channel pain, grief and annoyance while maintaining her character’s self-enforced emotional detachment.

In many ways, Peeta is Katniss’ polar opposite. Josh Hutcherson delivers his lines winningly, making Peeta convincing as both a character and as a guy to root for. There are a couple rough patches—at one point, Peeta monologues about “being turned into something he’s not.” However, Hutcherson manages to avoid most of the triteness by playing up Peeta’s teenage side; he talks about his fears of losing himself with both self-seriousness and self-consciousness.

Throughout the movie, it remains unclear if Katniss feels that Peeta’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. However, their love story is surprisingly believable, even though their early chemistry is frequently overshadowed by the fact that they’re supposed to kill each other. “The Hunger Games” strikes a balance between overdone and contrived. To its credit, neither does the movie spend much time focusing on the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale (who spends most of the movie watching TV and brooding prettily).

In fact, despite its long run-time, “The Hunger Games” is well-paced. There’s plenty of time to ponder the nature of game shows and totalitarian governments, but the movie certainly doesn’t skimp on the main attraction: attractive teenagers trying to avoid being killed by other attractive teenagers. Whether in Panem or the contemporary United States, if that’s what viewers want to see, the odds are certainly in their favor.

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