The Hunger Games Review
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Ever since Edward and Bella exchanged that first longing glance on the big screen, the Twilight movies have dominated the box office with their often-imitated brand of moody teen romance. Now, however, with the long-awaited release of The Hunger Games, it’s time for the rise of a new (and more deserving) teen hero.

Forget about Team Edward and Team Jacob. It’s time to make way for Team Katniss.

In case you’ve somehow managed to avoid both the book and the buzz, The Hunger Games takes place in the future, in the nation of Panem. Each year, to commemorate the great civil war that took place decades ago, each of the nation’s twelve districts is required to provide two tributes—one girl and one boy—to fight in the annual Hunger Games, a televised battle to the death.

  
 
When her younger sister’s name is selected in the annual Reaping, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. Together with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the other tribute from her district, she’s swept away to the Capitol, where she’s treated to the best the country has to offer as she trains for the most taxing battle of her life.

How the guy who previously directed Seabiscuit and Pleasantville managed to get himself hired to direct this gritty teen thriller is anybody’s guess. But, as it turns out, Gary Ross was the perfect guy for the job. In adapting the best-selling book for the big screen, he clearly kept his focus on the big picture, removing the parts (and characters) that won’t really matter in the long run and reworking parts that needed some tweaking.

Characters that were barely mentioned in the first book (like Donald Sutherland’s President Snow and Wes Bentley’s Seneca Crane) are more developed in the film—which will definitely make a difference later in the series. The end of the story is extended, setting up more of the conflict to come. And when it comes to telling the story inside the arena, Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman is used perfectly, as a kind of wacky but unobtrusive kind of narrator. It isn’t often that I’ll say something like this, but, in many ways, its overall result is often even more effective—and even more powerful—than that of the book.

Though it gets off to a shaky start (literally), with some unnecessary shaky-cam and extreme close-ups (an obvious attempt to give the scenes in District 12 a grittier feel), it doesn’t take long for the film to hit its stride. The action quickly moves to the extravagance of the Capitol, where the contrast to the poverty of the districts is almost grotesque. Still, after introducing some of the more flamboyant characters (like Tucci’s Flickerman and Elizabeth Banks’s Effie Trinket), it wastes no time in getting to the arena, where the real action takes place.

Parents should be warned, then, that the film doesn’t shy away from violence—nor should it, really. Ross was careful to keep the film to its PG-13 rating, but that’s not to say that it isn’t bloody and brutal at times. But the violence helps to get the point across, while glossing over it may have desensitized audiences, causing them to overlook the impact—and the consequences—of the Games. Instead, it’s both suspenseful and devastating, thrilling and horrifying.

In the end, The Hunger Games is everything that a teen thriller should be—and everything that Twilight never was. It’s beautifully imagined, with great characterizations and strong and admirable heroes. It’s action-packed and suspenseful. It’s imaginative and thoughtful. Guys will be thrilled by the action, while girls will be inspired by the headstrong heroine—and even adults can buy a ticket with their heads held high, completely free of embarrassment. It may be long, but there’s never a dull moment. And when it’s all over, even the most die-hard Twi-hards may find themselves asking, “Edward who?”

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