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Written by: Gary Ross, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins

Directed by: Gary Ross

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland

Suzanne Collins’ youth fiction blockbuster The Hunger Games is pretty interesting. Full of dark considerations of murder and cruelty, and featuring a fantastic lead character, Collins offers more substance to her young (and, come on, older) readers than most of the other options in the YA section of the library. The Hunger Games also features a complex sociopolitical structure, relative to say, the Harry Potter series.  Gary Ross’ blockbuster dusts over much of the complexity in an effort to produce an easier-to-swallow action film for the PG-13 audience.

At some point in the future, when North American society crumbles, the nation of Panem is born from its ashes. Panem was once a Captiol surrounded by 13 outlying Districts but after a violent social uprising, only 12 Districts remain. Life in the Capitol is comically lavish and superficial, while life in the Districts is oppressive, regulated and grim. Since the uprising, The Captiol forces each district to submit one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is a gladiatorial tournament in which the 24 competitors must hunt each other until there is only one left, a tournament which is televised as the ultimate in reality television. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a District 12 native who spends her days hunting illegally in the restricted forest outside her district so that she can provide for her young sister and useless mother. When Katniss is volunteers herself for the Games, her unwillingness to play along with the pomp and circumstance of it all and her subversive attitude have implications larger than herself.

I suspect that Ross’ version of The Hunger Games is of little interest to those who don’t know the books, as it glosses over the complex considerations of the book and tries to appeal to a broader audience. The result is one with less detailed characters, and a simplified political consciousness. The violence, too, is neutered by heavy use of QueasyCam and tricky editing, making it so that there is almost no blood or gore at all. By watering everything down, Ross has given his film the wrong flavour; instead of the darkly gruesome YA homage to Battle Royale and The Most Dangerous Game that it should’ve been, The Hunger Games comes off feeling a little tepid. All the same, there are excellent performances from Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci and the extraordinarily talented Jennifer Lawrence, and over all it’s a very well-produced film that flaunts considerable quality over much of its big budget competition.

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