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“The Hunger Games”–Our “Harry Potter”?

“The Hunger Games” is  part “Harry Potter” meets the “Truman Show” with a dash of “American Idol” and “Lord of the Flies.”

The blockbuster trilogy by Suzanne Collins is set to be an equally sensational trilogy on the silver screen.  Like the Harry Potter series, Collins’ trilogy is targeted to a young adult audience. “The Hunger Games” is a dystopian tale about a country called Panem (from the Latin meaning–“bread and circuses”,  loosely referring to the government’s providing food and recreation to prevent discontent and revolution.)  Panem is a mythical country ruled by a totalitarian government situated in a Capitol owning all the wealth. The Capitol maintains order through nationally televised blood sports known as the Hunger Games, in which two young “tributes” from each of twelve districts, a boy and a girl, must participate in an annual winner- takes-all bloodbath. President Snow oversees the annual Hunger Games, with a villainous cunning to suppress all dissension from the masses.

A sixteen-year old girl, Katniss Everdeen, is paired with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), to represent District 12, intended to be Appalachians (think Harlan County, Kentucky mining towns).  Katniss is played by Jennifer Lawrence (nominated for the 2010 Academy Award for Best Actress in “Winter’s Bone” –see my review at,  She imbues the character Katniss with a blend of grit and strength, the camera lingering on her every expression and gesture.

Narrated in the voice of Katniss, the book “The Hunger Games” gives  little background detail or context of scene.  In fact the book reads as a book conceived as a movie.  The author, Suzanne Collins, is a former writer for Nickelodeon TV, and her vivid storytelling actually lends itself to being amplified onscreen.  The context of the remote control of the environment, the surveillance cameras, and the games becomes vivid in the film in a way that the reader cannot fully imagine.  Usually the opposite is true when a book is converted to film: visualizing the scenes in the book are a disconnect from the movie.  Not in this case!

Nonetheless, here are a few inevitable quibbles about the book vs. movie storyline, remembering that a novel and a story on the silver screen are two very different forms of creative expression. Perhaps most egregious of all is that the mockingjay, a creation of the Panem government’s experiments on the environment,  is not explained in the movie. The symbol of the mockingjay, emblematic of the environmental and political wounds of the people of Panem,  becomes increasingly important in books two and three of the trilogy, so this may have been a misstep that hopefully is rectified in the sequel.

President Snow is barely mentioned in the first book, but his role (played by the indomitable Donald Sutherland) is much more prominent in the movie.   His prominence may also be a cinematic device to iterate some of the thoughts Katniss has towards the government, which could only otherwise be accomplished through voiceovers or monologues.  Sutherland is more effective.

In the final analysis, “The Hunger Games” is a winner-takes-all home run–even for those of us who are not young adults!

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