Human sacrifice was a big part of a lot of cultures for a long time. Sure, now it sounds rather gaouche, but that’s because we live in slightly more sophisticated times. The Hunger Games is set in the future and it sounds like we can at least look forward to human sacrifice coming back in vogue. Here, 24 kids, aged 12-18, are taken to battle to the death in a futuristic arena to remind the population and, of course, make the best damn reality show ever. Because nothing says entertainment like an 18-year-old man fighting a 12-year-old girl.
It turns out there was some big war in North America, which left the world we know behind. Now the continent is run by the ruling class in the capitol city, with the rest of it (the losers in the war) divided into 12 districts and subjugated by capitol city peacekeepers. Every year, the city takes one boy and one girl from each district to compete in The Hunger Games battle royale, to remind the people who’s in charge and that revolution is a bad idea. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) comes from District 12, the poor coal mining district, and her getting sent to the games is basically a death sentence.
But she’s tough and spunky and makes a go of it. The Hunger Games is not a short movie, dedicating plenty of time to showing just how sick and bizarre this tradition is before giving us what everyone really wants, the bloodbath. There’s not much subtlety to the social commentary here, and the reality show set-up makes it difficult to read the characters. There’s a romance in the film that, at inception, is just an act to get audience sympathy. By the end of the film, it is not in anyway clear if that relationship transcended that or not. I never knew how anyone really felt or thought about what was going on.
I do give props to Jennifer Lawrence, who continues to prove herself one of the most talented young actors around. Katniss is tough and not very talkative, but Lawrence brings a lot more to her performance, giving us a window into her mind that I’m sure fans of the book didn’t need but someone like me appreciated. The rest of the cast is fine. Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci all play weird city-dwellers and look like they’re having fun with their ridiculous wigs and outfits. Donald Southerland’s in here too, although he felt more like a sequel setup character than anything else.
A few scenes from The Hunger Games stuck with me. There’s a great scene when a particularly sad death provokes a riot that I thought was well done and I hope is a sign of things to come in the sequel. All I was really looking for was some fun action, and I got it, eventually. Hell, the movie has enough pathos, I even want to read the book now. But if you haven’t read the book, don’t want to read the book, or won’t be dragged to the theater by people who read the book, you’d probably be safe letting The Hunger Games pass you by.