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By: Jeff Ford
By: Jeff Ford

A Preview of The Hunger Games

After last week brief hiatus (vacation and March Madness took priority), Now Playing has returned.  I don’t feel I missed much with the absence of last week’s column; 21 Jump Street was the only film of note and would have received a less than satisfactory rating.  From the buzz I have heard, the rating would have been premature (it currently is sitting at 86% approval rating on rottentomatoes.com).  However, as I have stated numerous times, my ratings are based on the trailers and my own hype.  In my opinion, the trailers for 21 Jump Street were… less than stellar.  I’m hoping to check it out later this week to see if the trailers mislead me in the wrong direction.

In the meantime, March continues on and, as far as I can tell, only one film is making its way to the marketplace.  This one film also represents the first movie of 2012 that I have been highly anticipating.  Without further delay, let’s start playing…

THE HUNGER GAMES

It’s been many years since the Districts of Panem had failed in their uprising against the Capitol.  As punishment, the Capitol has issued “The Hunger Games”, an annual battle where a male and female teen representative or “tribute” from all 12 districts are forced to fight to the death and which only one can survive.  When 12-year-old Primrose Everdeen’s name is pulled to be District 12’s female tribute, her older sister Katniss volunteers in her place.  This simple act of sisterly love is the start of a journey that could change the face of Panem forever.

I first became aware of the phenomenon of “The Hunger Games’ when I heard Kentucky native Jennifer Lawrence was cast in the lead of Katniss.  I had just seen her in Winter’s Bone, where she was fantastic as a rural girl from the Ozarks, looking for her criminal father.  I didn’t give the casting much notice, thinking of it as another Twilight clone.  It wasn’t until the first teaser clip of Jennifer running through the forest as Katniss that I gave it a second glance.  The trailer lead me to click on the corresponding IMDB page and it was there I saw who the writer/director of the film was.

Gary Ross has only directed two films before The Hunger Games.  Those two films, Pleasantville and Seabiscuit (which was filmed in part in Kentucky), I count as some of my favorite films.  He is also the writer behind Big and Dave, reflecting his ability to shape simple premises (a boy who wishes he was big, two teens who are transported to a 1950’s style sitcom) into films that contain deeper meanings.  His characters are more than just caricatures.  Gary Ross understands what it takes to frame a great story.  There is a quality in his works that many of his brethren seem to miss. 

It was for his participation that I felt I should give The Hunger Games a shot.  So I went to my Kindle one Friday afternoon and downloaded the first novel.  Come Monday, I had devoured the entire series.  The first book was fascinating.  Katniss’s struggle to survive in the games had me riveted from the onset and I had to find out what happened next.  The books are not perfect (could have gone without the first person narration as I wanted to know what was happening with the other tributes) with the second and third books having some issues (“Catching Fire” felt like a rehash of the first and the problems I had with “Mockingjay” are too numerous to mention.  I would also need to get into major spoiler material to fully express my disappointment with it).  Still, they were quick and easy read and I highly encourage everybody who might be interested in this film to give them a shot.

Needless to say, I was hooked.  I started looking up anything I could find about this movie, pursuing the message boards, trying to discern any minute detail to quench my appetite.  Here are some things I found interesting. 

It bears a strong resemblance to the Japanese series Battle Royale but is not a remake or retelling of the film.  “The Hunger Games” author Suzanne Collins claims to have been unaware of that series until after her first draft was submitted.  Instead it is based around the Greek myth of Thesus and the blurring of a reality show with the War in Iraq. 

The casting of Kentucky native Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, the male tribute from District 12, and Kentucky criminal Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, the only tribute to return alive from District 12, were noteworthy as it pertains to this state.  Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Stanly Tucci, Wes Bently, Liam Hemsworth (brother to Thor) and Lenny Kravitz are some others lending their talents to this production. 

Here are some smaller tidbits.  It is rated PG-13 but doesn’t apparently neuter the violence inherent in the game.  The love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale is not overstated and rightfully takes a back seat to carnage on screen.  There is also a belief that District 12 actually is Kentucky (or at least a large portion of it.  Here is a website with a fan-made map of Panem - http://images2.fanpop.com/image/photos/13700000/Hunger-Games-Map-of-Panem-the-hunger-game-trilogy-13703262-1024-714.jpg)

I could go on but I think I have made my point.  The Hunger Games will be earning my money this weekend.  I can’t make the midnight showings as I do have an early morning job, but I hope to be able to get there this Friday afternoon, before the Xavier and UK doubleheader that evening.  Can it live up to the hype?  I’m hoping so.  I’m giving this 5 Mockingjays out of 5.  The Hunger Games is rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens.

That is all this week.  Tune in next time when the gods take on Snow White.  Until next time, may the odds be ever in your favor.

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