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Highly anticipated 'Hunger Games' does not wow this fan of the books

Posted: March 29, 2012 - 12:03am

The boob tube takes a seat on the bench this month (although I’m excited to write about “Cougar Town” next month, no joke). It has to. As my sister recently put it on Facebook: HUNGER GAMESSSSSS

If you haven’t heard of “The Hunger Games” and are wondering what in the heck all those youngsters are blabbing about, don’t sweat it. I actually have heard of “The Hunger Games”. Read the books (it’s a trilogy by author Suzanne Collins that seems to have already reached the same level of hysteria with the young-adult crowd as any Team Edward vs. Team Jacob argument might elicit). Saw the first movie, released last Friday.

I say don’t sweat not knowing what all the ruckus is about because that’s probably better than thinking you “discovered” the next big thing. Yep. Yours truly picked “The Hunger Games” on a whim off the bookstore shelf several months ago, read it, and then thought, “Wow. This could be big.”

Fifteen seconds and one Google search later, I realized I hadn’t so much as discovered the next big thing as stumbled into the game way, way, WAY late.

Collins’ story has plenty going on, but trimmed for the sake of brevity it’s like this: It’s the future. Things haven’t gone all that great in the world, and the current lay of the land features 12 districts and the almighty Capitol. The Capitol runs the show, and as good and fancy and silly as life is in the Capitol, things are bleak in the districts. That, of course, is by the Capitol’s design. Ironically, the Capitol relies on each district supplying it with what it produces, but the districts have learned their lesson about thinking about anything even resembling a revolt. Still, to make sure the districts don’t forget who’s in charge, the Capitol runs the Hunger Games each year.

Sounds fun! And it most definitely is, as long as your idea of fun includes forcing kids into an “arena” and taking part in a game where there is only one winner: the last one alive.

With that working knowledge base, even the non-book folks should be able to picture what “The Hunger Games” movie is all about. Director and co-screenwriter Gary Ross, to me, did an admirable job of staying true to the characters, storylines, and general feel of the book. That isn’t to say, mind you, that there aren’t discrepancies. My wife, the book much fresher in her mind, leaned in several times during the movie to inform me of said discrepancies.

Our heroine is Katniss Everdeen, played aptly by Jennifer Lawrence. Katniss and her family live in District 12, where their purpose in the Capitol’s eyes is mining. It’s just Katniss, her mother, and her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields), her father having died in a mining accident. District 12… well, it sucks. Katniss helps keep food on the table by venturing outside the district’s boundaries and hunting game illegally with her handsome guy-pal, Jacob. Excuse me, Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Katniss is a whiz with a bow and arrow, FYI.

Katniss actually doesn’t “win” the lottery (which they call “the reaping”) to represent her district in the Hunger Games; her sister does. So Katniss “volunteers” to take her sister’s spot. The reaping requires one boy and one girl from each district, and that boy for District 12 turns out to be Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

The two lucky youngsters are whisked off to the Capitol to be prepped for the nationally televised games. They eat better than they ever have, they’re pampered like they’re Hollywood A-listers, and crowds cheer for them. If it weren’t for the nagging fact that all but one of them is going to die soon, at the hands of one another no less, it would probably be more fun.

Full disclosure: My wife and I saw this movie with a horrible audience (not in Juneau) -- including a guy who kept coughing, a group of obnoxious laughers and some seat-kicking kids -- so our experience was definitely tainted. That said, my main gripe with the flick is the fact that it’s PG-13. “The Hunger Games”, let’s face it, includes a lot of death, killing, blood. Ross sort of half-includes all the key moments, using various film tricks (cutting away, fading the sound out) to avoid anything that might prompt the dreaded R-rating that would make it much harder for the teenyboppers around the world to fork over their money. The result is the PG-13 is kept intact, but the movie is robbed of much of its potential effectiveness.

Still, I get that “The Hunger Games” has to be PG-13.

What I don’t get is one specific casting decision. And no, I’m not talking about the casting complaints being tweeted about ad nauseam (Google “Hunger Games racism” if you feel like being depressed about humanity). I had pictured Katniss’ Hunger Games counterpart, Peeta, as a big, somewhat imposing figure. Josh Hutcherson ain’t that. He’s shorter than Katniss, for crying out loud!

Everything else, like Donald Sutherland’s President Snow – the main villain from the series – being drastically underplayed, I’ll chalk up hopefully to the process of going from book to big screen.

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