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By MARK TURNER
It would seem that making a movie based on a successful series of books would be an easy thing, but that's not the case. To begin with there is the task of bringing the entire story that most would read over a period of say a week and turning it into a something that takes a little over two hours.
Then there are the fans. When you have a book as popular as THE HUNGER GAMES, those fans can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Everyone has their favorite thing about the book they love and not all will make it to the final product. Fans that have yet to see the movie should know there are changes but that the movie is still wonderful.
The story takes place in the future where after a tumultuous war the continent has been divided into districts. Each district is responsible for its own product, which for the most part is taken to the Capitol. As a tribute and a reminder of their defeat by those in the Capitol a yearly competition is held called the Hunger Games. A boy and girl, ages 12-18, are selected from each district. They are wined, dined and trained for a few days, then set free in an area designated for the games. The way to win is to kill the other 23 contestants.
The focus of the story revolves around Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a young woman who hunts illegally to keep her family fed and taken care of. This year is the first that her young sister Prim must enter her name. The odds are against her name being drawn but when it is, Katniss volunteers to take her place. The boy chosen is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the son of the local baker. The two are allowed their goodbyes to friends and family and then whisked away to the Capitol.
On their train trip to the Capitol both Katniss and Peeta are given instruction from their two mentors. Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is the prim and proper example of what the Capitol is all about: excess in nearly every area and blindly obedient to the President (Donald Sutherland). Their other mentor, clearly the better of the two, is Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). Haymitch is a past winner who has knowledge of the games first hand. He also drinks non-stop in an effort to get through the knowledge that perhaps these two might not make it home again.
With the story set up we get to the Capitol and witness the transformation of Katniss and Peeta from backwoods teens whose names were drawn to contestants who must not only be physically fit but must win the favor of viewers and wealthy sponsors who can help them with gifts throughout the games. It is their best chance for survival but Katniss hates the games and what they represent. Still, several incidents occur that win her favor in some circles.
The day arrives and the contestants are set free to do bodily harm to one another. Backpacks with special equipment are left for them to take if they can avoid being stabbed or worse by other contestants. As the person with the best skills and chance of surviving, Katniss sets out to find a way to win taking as few lives as possible. When the rules are changed to allow both competitors from each district survive as a team, she must find Peeta who proclaimed his love for her during a pre-game interview. Together they might have a chance to make it out of the Hunger Games alive.
Movie fans of the film BATTLE ROYALE will raise a stink that this film has taken its idea from that one. Nothing could be further from the truth. While the battling teens are similar, the way the games are handled is much different. But more important is the story of Katniss who changes as she makes her way through the games. Cold and hard at first, she comes to find romance and a caring soul among those she fights next to and against. It is a coming of age story that shows a young woman forced to reach maturity beyond her years.
The movie has a great look stretching from the coal mining scenes that form the world of District 12 where Katniss is from to the over-glamorized appearance of the Capitol. These are two different worlds on the same planet and the reactions of Peeta and Katniss show that they've never seen anything outside their front door. It doesn't mean that they admire this new world; they just recognize it is different.
The acting is straight forward here. No one seems to be hamming it up or overplaying their roles. Each one comes across as the person they are here to represent which would seem easier for lesser known actors and much more difficult for those who are seasoned professionals. All included in this film turn in admirable jobs.
Knowing that the books are a trilogy one could be afraid that the end of this film would leave you hanging on the edge, waiting for the next. Don't be afraid. This movie would stand on its own if it had to. But once you become a fan my guess is you'll anxiously anticipate the next or perhaps you'll begin reading the books. In any event, THE HUNGER GAMES is a movie that will have you thinking, talking with friends and considering the implications. And more than anything it will entertain you.
Past Digital Views reviews, other current reviews and more can be found online at http://dvddigitalviews.blogspot.com