RECAP: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games (2012): Gary Ross

In the future, the United States no longer exists. In its place is a state called Panem, ruled by The Capitol [sic] and comprised of 12 Districts. At least 74 years ago there was a District 13 and rebellion. The Capitol squashed both, and The Hunger Games were born, all the better to remind the districts to forget about future rebellions.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: In a future autocratic society, a teenager living in the sticks volunteers to compete in a 24-person fight to death, broadcast live, for the amusement of many. 

Hero (/10)

“I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute!” With those words Katniss Everdeen (and Jennifer Lawrence), became a national hero. The first tribute to volunteer from District 12 (a mining sector bereft of money and hope) in the 74 years of the Hunger Games, Katniss was born to win.

Katniss first appears in The Hunger Games as a rule-breaker. She leaves the confines of her village, breaking through an electric fence, to hunt deer in the woods, not for food she desperately needs, but to sell.

Volunteerism among the youths carries a different meaning in Panem.

Before she’s spoken a word we learn that Katniss is headstrong, defiant, and deadly with a bow and arrow, all traits she will need to survive the next week of her life.

One afternoon Katniss joins hundreds of District 12 citizens to watch the drafting of one teenage girl and one teenage boy for the Hunger Games. Katniss and her sister Prim (Willow Shields) both fall in the selectable age range. Katniss is not afraid, though her sister is terrified.

After much suspense, Prim’s name is selected to compete in the Hunger Games. Katniss, a proudly protective big sis, shouts down her sister. She volunteers to kill other teenagers in Prim’s place. Broadcast across Panem, Katniss’s sacrifice endears her to the people.

Katniss spends the remainder of The Hunger Games trying to survive, first emotionally and then physically. Chosen alongside Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss travels to The Capitol to glad hand, train, and convince the populace to gush over her. She needs some massaging of her rough, District 12 edges, but Katniss warms the rich Capitolites to her.

After a few whirlwind days of TV interviews, parties, and training sessions, Katniss lets her heroic self show when she enters the arena to murder her cohort and try surviving.

Katniss nurtures well when the situation calls. Before leaving District 12 she confronts her mother, ordering her to not shutdown as she did after her husband died. The mom acts like she gets it.

In the arena Katniss lets her nurture side show. Young Rue (Amandla Stenberg) of District 11 follows Katniss, acting like her younger sister. Katniss protects Rue for her duration of the Games, killing the boy who kills her and sparing Katniss the need to kill Rue later. Rue acts as a substitute Prim for a few days.

Late in the Games, the powers that be announce that she and Peeta can win together. She tracks Peeta and finds him concealed amongst rocks, his face painted the rock’s color. Peeta’s sustained a leg wound, and she nurses him.

Katniss journeys to the Cornucopia (a central area in the Games arena that houses weapons and gear) to retrieve a salve that will save Peeta’s life, at least for a little while. Peeta, however, doesn’t want her to go. Katniss shakes off his concern. “You would do it for me, wouldn’t you?”

Katniss saves Peeta with the salve, and later with the bow. She saves Peeta a lot. She saves him one last time with her courageous, brilliant idea. After killing Cato, Katniss knows she can win by killing Peeta. She chooses a different path, one that will make her not only a victor in the Hunger Games, but a hero to millions throughout Panem.

Katniss holds poison berries, and she offers them to Peeta. They will both eat them and both die, killing themselves and the hope that the games are meant to provide. The Capitol can’t allow this, so they renege on their one-victor policy that they earlier had reneged on, and crown them both victors.

Lawrence plays Katniss perfectly. She can act, and holds nothing back, delivering great swoons of emotion that teenagers know all too well. In every scene Lawrence acts as if she’ll die at its end. The audience hangs onto her every word. It’s how she became a star.

Villain (2/10)

President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is Katniss’s true enemy. In The Hunger Games she doesn’t know it yet, and Snow is not on screen enough to warrant Villain status.

The Capitol is the entity that throws Katniss and 23 other children into a battle to the death. That’s a less exciting villain.

Cato (Alexander Ludwig) is the career tribute who hates Katniss most and wants to kill her more than anyone else. We first see Cato when the tributes arrive in The Capitol, and he’s got the swagger of a douche from Moment One.

Cato (second from left) leads his band of Merry Tributes, kids who volunteer to be in the Games.

Cato, a volunteer from District Two, leads three others eager to kill Katniss. He and his cronies galavant through the arena like the Hunger Games are a Friday football game. I didn’t buy this aspect of his character. I’m sure he would enjoy the killing, and he kills several, but it seems hard to define the Hunger Games as fun.

Katniss’s chief antagonist snaps the neck of a tribute for not properly guarding the mountain of stuff they control. After that he disappears for some time, showing up at the end to choke Peeta. His demise is poor for a chief villain. The dogs released late in the Games get him, weakening him without killing him, downgrading him from threat to nuisance. In the end, he can’t kill Katniss, and knows it. But he can harm Peeta. It’s the “only thing I know how to do,” he says.

Action/Effects (1/10)

The effects budget for The Hunger Games must have been low. According to Box Office Mojo, the movie’s total budget was $78 million. It shows.

Katniss and Peeta enter The Capitol on a chariot. They wear clothes that catch fire, so to speak, and the effects and backgrounds look bad, noticeably fake, enough to take me out of the movie.

Luckily, that was the primary effects shot.

That budget means the filmmakers didn’t have the cash to shoot long fight scenes. The Hunger Games isn’t about the group warfare. Katniss spends most of her time running and hiding from tributes, sleeping in trees and the like. When the Games begin, half of the tributes die in minutes, so quickly that the game makers shoot their cannons consecutively, after the killing has waned. Most of that sequence is filmed from Katniss’s perspective, and she’s trying to avoid the scrum.

The Cornucopia, where the weapons go.

Katniss does the most damage through luck and stealth. She saws a hive of wasps from a tree, attacking four tributes and killing one. The stunt nearly kills Katniss, as she falls from the tree and sustains a wasp sting. Later, she attacks the supply depot after drawing Cato away from it. Stealth, subterfuge, ingenuity, and near-perfect aim–those are the skills Katniss deploys to win the Hunger Games.

Sidekicks (/8)

District Twelve’s male tribute is Peeta, a former bakery employee and one-time bread giver to Katniss. From the outset Peeta believes he cannot win the Hunger Games. No one does. “You know what my mother said, … ‘District Twelve might finally have a winner,’ but she wasn’t talking about me.” She was talking about Katniss.

Lack of confidence doesn’t stop Peeta from brainstorming. Katniss might be all heart and a lot of brawn, but Peeta is the thinker of the pair. We find Peeta painting camouflage on his arm during a training sequence. He excels at it. And it’s Peeta who convinces Katniss and all of Panem that they are budding lovers. That inspired thought saves his and Katniss’s life.

Peeta is a skilled painter. He worked in a bakery and learned decorating techniques.

Peeta knows he won’t win the Games. Our first sight of him after the Games starts is him hanging with the careers, helping them track Katniss, who sees this from her tree perch. He appears traitor.

Though he never says so, Peeta must have pretended to betray Katniss to get close to the strongest fighters in the arena to learn their weaknesses and tendencies. Peeta’s strategy works well later, when he advises Katniss on Cato’s likely location. All the better to avoid him.

Peeta is mostly a sad sack who attracts Katniss through sympathy. She loves taking care of people, and Peeta’s pathetic nature draws out her love.

Katniss finds other allies in the arena. No one more tragic than Rue. Perhaps the youngest tribute, Rue shows climbing and hiding skills in the training sessions, skills that keep her alive for several days in the arena.

After the careers chase Katniss up a tree, Rue is perched a few trees away. She silently alerts Katniss to the hive of tracker jackers hanging from a branch above the sleeping careers. The Games commentators inform us that tracker jackers are genetically modified wasps that can kill you in seconds.

Rue’s fate is most tragic

After this attack, Rue nurses and camouflages Katniss for two days. They concoct a scheme to destroy the remaining supplies, which Katniss achieves, but Rue gets caught in a net during her escape from the careers.

Rue’s death mercifully occurs off screen, but it hammers home the brutality of the Games. Katniss, Peeta, Cato, and many others are post-pubescent teens (played by adults). Rue is a child, played by a child. She’s the only named character who clearly is such in the Games.

Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) is a former Hunger Games champion and current high-functioning alcoholic. As a champion from District Twelve, The Capitol uses him whenever and however it wants; he’s their slave, a rich slave, but a slave.

Does this job come with drinking privileges?

Haymitch finds the teens in his care agitating at first, but warms to Katniss because she’s a boss. He believes she can win. Peeta…not so much. Haymitch drinks as often as he dispenses advice, and both often.

Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) might be the most tone deaf person in Panem. She arrives in purpled glory to select District Twelve’s tributes. But first, a word from her sponsor. The gathered plebeians watch a propaganda video about how their great-grandparents tried to fuck up The Capitol, and now they must send two children every year until the end of time to be murdered as penance. A fairer, more just system has not yet been made.

Effie, on the left, pleased to announce District Twelve’s future dead teenager.

Effie, an overjoyed color wheel, mouths the video’s closing words like gospel, wallowing in their justice. She doesn’t notice the dirty faces staring back at her like Parisians on July 13, 1789.

No matter, Effie’s soon out of there. She’s excited to show Katniss and Peeta a better life (even if only for a week), a life filled with crystal chandeliers and mahogany tables. But don’t stab said table, or you’ll be scolded!

The Hunger Games stars young actors and surrounds them with a talented adult cast, a wise move that strengthens the film. Banks and Harrelson have long track records of comedic and serious work. They’re playing a serious, tragic film as comedic characters, making them inspired choices.

Henchmen (/8)

President Snow doesn’t garner enough screen time to warrant Villain status, so here he falls.

Perhaps the only person in The Capitol with his natural hair color and style, Snow cultivates two things: white roses and power, often at the same time.

Snow recognizes Katniss for who she is: a danger to his dictatorship. He describes her as a spark, and advises Seneca Crane, chief gamemaker, to stamp it out. Snow knows that resentment to his rule bubbles throughout the 12 districts, and riots kick off in District Eleven after Rue’s death.

Snow might be the smartest person in Panem, likely why he’s kept power for however many years he has.

In the arena are other henchmen. Cato leads three other careers after Katniss. These kids love being in the Hunger Games. One girl attacks Katniss late in the film and lies about having killed Rue. Rue’s district partner, a boy much larger and perhaps older than the mouthy career, kicks her off of Katniss. The girl immediately screams for Cato to help her.

For your consideration…those who will die on TV!

I didn’t understand their motivation. They enjoy their time in the Games far too much, considering they’ve given Cato all the power. For a few days these three live as princes and princesses of the Hunger Games, but they must know that the king will turn on them. That’s the only way to survive, and their likely gonna get got.

Stunts (/6)

The 74th Hunger Games is one long action sequence. The deadliest and most brutal part occurs seconds after the games begin.

Twenty-four tributes stand in a circle a few yards away from the Cornucopia, a shelter laden with supply bags and non-ballistic weapons. A countdown timer flashes the final 10 seconds until the Games begin. Haymitch had warned Katniss that if she jumps off the pedestal early she’ll explode. She listens.

Haymitch also warned Katniss not to run for the bounteous weapons displayed yards from them. “Don’t go for it,” he says. “It’s a bloodbath.” The clock strikes zero. The tributes bolt from their pedestals.

Peeta immediately runs into the woods. Katniss makes to follow, but she can’t turn from the carnage. The only sounds heard are the strings of the score as nearly two dozen kids run for the weapons that will, they hope, save their lives.

Quick editing prevents the viewer from a handle on the events. Mostly we catch glimpses of blood flying from children and blades flashing. Katniss takes in the scene from the periphery. She spots a bag of gear all by its lonesome and sprints toward it.

“Water’s your new best friend,” is what Haymitch said to her moments before flying to the arena. Katniss might be following this advice, hoping to find water in the bag. It nearly gets her killed. She trips and finds a boy with an ax running her down. That boy raises his ax. Suddenly he falls. A knife protrudes from his back. It’s the girl with perfect knife throwing accuracy from the training sequences. Great! She’s there to help Katniss.

Wrong. She throws a knife at Katniss, who intercepts the blade with her backpack. Her ammunition exhausted, the girl glares at Katniss and runs away.

Katniss flees to the forest, but the slaughter continues. Cato kills a younger boy and relishes his death. Asshole.

Climax (/6)

Imagine walking through a pretty forest at high noon when suddenly the sky darkens. It’s not an eclipse or a hallucination, you’re just walking inside a domed forest area and are participating in Panem’s favorite game show: The Hunger Games.

Don’t mind me, I’m just a friendly talking rock.

Katniss recognizes the implications of the midnight-at-noon sky. “The finale,” she says. She and Peeta hear screams in the forest. A cannon fires. It’s Thresh, the other guy from District Eleven.

Seems as if three tributes remain. They might not face each other for the win, because a gigantic hound now crashes through the brush and into a defenseless Peeta. Katniss, always prepared, shoots the dog immediately, and they run.

Back in the control center, Seneca has two more dogs thrown into the arena. Three dogs for three tributes. The humans sprint to the only safe place left, the Cornucopia. They climb the angled roof as the dogs snap at their heels.

Don’t rest too soon, because here’s Cato to attack. With a large cut on his face, it’s clear the dogs got to Cato as well. He’s injured, perhaps mentally, because he seems to have a sword but barely uses it to swipe at Katniss and Peeta. He should have quickly ended the Games with two stabs.

Katniss chokes Cato, though Cato flips that quickly. Peeta body slams Cato from atop Katniss and the two grapple. Both boys are blond, making it hard to tell them apart. Cato gains the upper hand and puts Peeta into a choke hold. Katniss aims an arrow at him.

“We both go down and you win,” Cato says. He admits that he’s scared to die. His wounds must be worse than they look. He can still break Peeta’s neck, though.

Katniss waits for the perfect moment and shoots Cato’s hand holding Peeta. Peeta expected this move, I think, because he immediately punches Cato and sends the guy falling to the hungry dogs below. Katniss, never without mercy, shoots Cato dead before the dogs finish him. The final cannon booms.

The sun rises and the dogs disappear. Katniss and Peeta embrace. They won!

Ding dong. New announcement. The previous rule revision of two winners from the same district has been revoked. “Only one victor may be crowned.” Not only do these gamemaking jokers change their rules mid-contest, but that was the third announcement after they stated there would be only one. It’s little wonder they can’t be trusted.

Peeta speaks first. “Go ahead.” Kill me, he implies. He doesn’t want to win. Katniss has saved him too many times. Katniss, genius that she is, plays the long game. She knows that the Games exist for one reason: hope of a winner. Parents can accept–barely–their children fighting to the death because they focus on that 4.1666…% chance that their boy or girl will survive.

Katniss draws out the poison berries she’s held onto for some reason. “Trust me,” she says. If she and Peeta both eat them and die, no one wins. Peeta takes a handful. He touches Katniss’s braid, remembering the time her first saw her.

Ding dong. ANOTHER god damn announcement! It’s like a bloody airport in there. “STOP,” shouts the speaker. The voice announces Katniss and Peeta as co-victors of the 74th Hunger Games.

Everything worked out great for Katniss. She lived, saved her sister, saved Peeta, achieved fame and fortune to boot. Katniss returns to District Twelve to find Prim sitting on Gale’s shoulders. Oh, right, that whole love triangle with her hometown’s sexiest boys. Should work out well in the coming months.

Meanwhile, back in The Capitol, Snow has Seneca eat poison berries. Katniss and Peeta couldn’t save him. The pair visits Caesar Flickerman’s show again. He asks Katniss how she felt when she found Peeta alive by the river. “I felt like the happiest person in the world.”

“She saved my life,” Peeta says.

“We saved each other,” Katniss says.

Jokes (0/4)

Woody Harrelson can’t help being funny. His drunk routine made me crack some smiles in the early going, but that’s about it. Even Haymitch gets serious later. The Hunger Games is too grim to make you laugh.

Setting (/4)

The Hunger Games sends Katniss to three distinct locations.

District Twelve: A mining community, District Twelve sends underground resources to The Capitol. It’s people are often dirty, and they live in shacks not seen outside of West Virginia in this century. The locals barter squirrels for bread, and they can only get money if they sell to outsiders (read: occupying soldiers).

Katniss and Gale contemplate life on their own in the woods.

For a country comprised of miners, Twelve’s landscape is pristine. Katniss navigates the forest early, tracking a deer. Rolling hills abound and offer Katniss and Gale places of refuge. The two entertain living in the woods. If not for the crippling poverty, District Twelve might be a nice place to live.

The Capitol: What appears to be Panem’s sole metropolitan area, The Capitol proves that even the most technologically advanced cultures can misspell.

Residents of The Capitol express themselves outlandishly. Effie Trinket is not “one of a kind,” she’s one of a kind. President Snow might be the only citizen who doesn’t style his hair in weird shapes or colors.

The arena: A southern US temperate forest, western North Carolina served as the filming location for much of The Hunger Games. Shout out to my Old North State!

Streams, water pools, large trees, and grassy fields make a perfect arena of death for Katniss to traverse. District Twelve’s landscape mirrors the arena’s, increasing her chance of survival.

Katniss displays her tracking skills in finding a bleeding Peeta disguised as a rock. She finds water early by searching for moss and peat. The arena is a world you’d want to visit when homicidal children aren’t hunting you.

Commentary (0/2)

Panem’s world is Just the Way It Is. You have to try very hard to find commentary on present-day American society. The rebellion that sparked the Hunger Games and the stark class divide occurred in the past, the event neither named nor described.

Offensiveness (0/-2)

Close-minded, myopic, stupid racists got on Twitter after seeing The Hunger Games and learning that the tragic character Rue was a black child. Many people stated they were less sad at her death because she wasn’t white. That’s despicable. If Trump ran things back then this wouldn’t have happened.

Others

  • One thing I learned watching The Hunger Games is that actors are slow runners.
  • I enjoyed the lethal sound of the steel arrows sliding back on the bow.
  • I don’t understand the game maker tracking techniques. Tributes are labeled by district number, but each gender doesn’t appear to be labeled differently. How do they tell them apart?

Summary (/68): xx%

A massive literary success, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games stayed on best seller lists for more than two years. The film was an even bigger hit. Jennifer Lawrence, already a known actor from her Oscar-nominated role in Winter’s Bone, used the trilogy to help her become the world’s highest paid actress. She’s not yet 30.

The Hunger Games exploded into theaters, raking in $152 million, the third highest opening in history to that time, and highest ever for a non-sequel. Three more movies followed, maybe you heard of them?

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