An in depth look at the previous Hunger Games. If you’re about to see the second installment and need to know what happened in the first. Look no further. Enjoy
Score: 8.5/ 10
“Why do we have a winner? I mean, if we just wanted to intimidate the districts, why not round up twenty-four at random and execute them all at once? It would be a lot faster. Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. Spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.” – President Snow
The Hunger Games is the first movie based on Suzanne Collins’s book trilogy of the same name. When I saw the trailers for this movie, I did not read the books and the concept of children fighting to the death in an arena seemed nonsensical to me. Why would children fight instead of the strongest warriors from each district? I could not brainstorm any way the concept could work. When I finally came around to watch the movie, I completely understood the genius of the Hunger Games. It is about controlling people. The thirteen districts rebelled against the Capitol. District 13 is said to be completely destroyed. The remaining twelve districts are reminded of their treachery with the Hunger Games. The scene in the movie that explains the purpose of the games perfectly is a conversation between President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley). Snow explains that the purpose of the Games is to intimidate the districts to remind them that the Capitol is in charge and there is nothing they can do about it. It has so much control and dominance that it can force each district to offer up one girl and one boy between the ages 12-18 as tributes to fight to the death. The selection of tributes is an annual event known as the Reaping. Unless there are volunteers, the tributes are chosen randomly. One child of each gender is horrifying but is an acceptable deterrent for the districts not to rebel. If it was more children, it would so sick that the districts would definitely rebel again. In addition, the odds of your child being selected are remote. This probability is the substance to the saying “May the odds be ever in your favor”.
On the other hand, Snow also explains the reason for a winner. While the chances of being selected are slight, the odds of surviving once you are selected are poor at 1/24. However, the fact that there is one victor gives hope. Although the broadcasted deaths of twenty three children is a somber reminder of the districts’ situation as second class citizens compared to the Capitol, the victor gives the districts something to rally around and celebrate after the horrible event. As a result, it leaves the districts with a positive feeling as the last memory of the games every year. However, it does not leave them with so much positive thoughts that they gain the confidence to rebel. While fear and intimidation is important, a healthy level of hope is an even more powerful tool in maintaining control of human beings. It reminds me of one of the key concepts in the Matrix. In that film, machines harvest the electricity from human beings and created a virtual world known as the Matrix to control us. Hugo Weaving’s character Agent Smith notes “the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program.” Instead, the machines believed that “as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.” The Hunger Games is a similar concept. It is predominantly “suffering and misery”. However, a victor creates enough of an illusion of a perfect world for the districts to accept the status quo. As such, it is enough balance of emotions for the districts to accept it as their reality. Donald Sutherland is an excellent President Snow. While he looks like Santa Claus, his gentle grandfather look deceives. His heart is as cold as the North Pole. He is ruthless and will do what is necessary to maintain the Capitol’s power and control of the country. The books are from the point of view of the main protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. The scenes in the movie from the perspective of other characters, such as the conversations between Snow and the Gamemaker, differentiate it from the book and add to the story.
Nevertheless, the Hungers Games is Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) story. She is a captivating and admirable hero. She is from the outlying, very poor District 12 comprised of coal miners. Her father died in a mining explosion. The event traumatized her mother who disengaged from the world for awhile after his death. As such, Katniss had to quickly grow up and mature beyond her years. She stepped up as the rock of her family. Despite her own despair and sadness over her father’s death, she took care of her mom and took over the responsibilities of her parents. Moreover, she hunts and is an expert marksman with a bow and arrow. I respect Katniss because she is responsible and resourceful. She is also a great older sister to Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields). Primrose is a sweet, innocent girl. She has turned 12 and is subject to the Reaping for the first time at the beginning of the story. She wakes up scared and in a nervous sweat as she has a nightmare that she is selected as tribute. However, Katniss is able to calm Primrose down, reassures her that she will not be chosen as it is only her first time in the pool, and sings to her to sooth her fear. Katniss serves as a sister, mother figure, and role model for Primrose. Of course, the improbable occurs and Primrose is randomly selected as tribute during the Reaping. A shocked and distraught Katniss volunteers as tribute to take her sister’s place. A true hero does not act for glory or fame. Instead, a real hero is someone that instinctively does the right solely for the right reason. Katniss exemplifies that hero. Although she has extraordinary qualities, she does not strive for greatness. She is humble and only wants to take care of her family. She is a reluctant hero. Similar to how she did not ask to step up as the head of her family but did so anyway, she is able to seize the moment during the Hunger Games and ascend to the status of an icon and symbol. Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant as Katniss. She portrays all the aspects of Katniss flawlessly, which includes her beauty. Lawrence was very good as Mystique in X-Men: First Class. However, her role as Katniss blows away her performance as Mystique. The Hunger Games made me fall in love with Katniss as a character and Jennifer Lawrence as a top actress. Amid all the hype from the fans of the series last year, I was skeptical that I would like the movie. However, it was definitely a pleasant surprise for me last year and it inspired me to read all the books. While books are generally better because they can go into more details and spend more time on character development, the movie does an excellent job staying true to the story while truncating it for about 2 ½ hours.
While Katniss is strong and has an unrelenting determination from her difficult experiences, these strengths are also a source of weakness. As she is battle hardened, she can come off as not personable, cold, stubborn, and rude. However, she is emotionally guarded because she had to be a pillar of strength that her mother and sister could lean on. She could not allow her emotions to get the best of her and appear weak. Accordingly, it is natural for her to hide her feelings. This part of her personality is misunderstood. The one person she can let her guard down for is her best friend, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). He can actually get her to smile and show her feminine side. They have a lot in common. Similar to Katniss, Gale is a great hunter. Moreover, he leads his family and takes care of his brothers. Katniss and Gale sneak out of the confines of the fences surrounding their district and into the restricted forest to hunt together. They are also very beautiful people that are naturally attracted to each other. However, they have yet to act on it even though they appear to be a perfect fit. While the screen time between the two characters in this movie is limited, there is clear chemistry between Jennifer Lawrence and Liam Hemsworth as Katniss and Gale.
The interaction between the two characters is also very meaningful in the movie. Before the Reaping, they have a conversation that is excellent in explaining the dystopian future they live in. Katniss notes that she will never have children. It is understandable as the fear that one of her children could be selected for the Reaping is horrifying. It is unconscionable that parents would have to send their child to their probable death, watch it on television, and be powerless to prevent it. On the other hand, Gale brings up the idea of running away. Even though Katniss and Gale would have a decent shot to get away, they would never consider it as they are both responsible people and their families depend on them. Nevertheless, the two are a likeable pair that you feel are destined to be together. Accordingly, it is tragic that the Hunger Games could take that opportunity from them. When Katniss volunteers as tribute, I also expected Gale to join her to protect her. However, he decides against it. It is a decision that he languishes over as he watches her on television. It is a choice that is based out of responsibility rather than fear. The system allows one to enter his name multiple times in exchange for food, which increases the odds of being selected as tribute. In order to provide for his family, Gale put his name in forty two times for the Reaping. If he had no dependents, I am sure he would have volunteered like Katniss. However, his brothers and family rely on him. Moreover, Katniss’s family will need him to provide for them in her absence and in the event of her potential death. Katniss completely understands these reasons and relies on him to care for her family while she fights in the Hunger Games. Nevertheless, the decision haunts him. Liam Hemsworth did an excellent job playing the character in the short role he had in the Hunger Games. I expect him to do a great job in the coming sequels.
A victor does not win the Hunger Games on his own. The tributes get a mentor who is a former winner of the games. As Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) is the only past winner from District 12, he is the default mentor for Katniss. My first impression of him is that he is unlikeable and incorrigible. He has no interest in the tributes he has been tasked to mentor and only cares about finding ice so he can drown himself in a drink. However, he has endured extreme hardships from his experience in the Hunger Games and its aftermath that will be portrayed in the sequel. He is a great example of not judging a book by its cover. Moreover, he is the only person to win the Hunger Games from District 12 as it is an outlying district that does not produce tributes with legitimate chances to win. As a result, it is disheartening for Haymitch to continually mentor children from his district that will most likely and inevitably die in the Games. However, he quickly realizes Katniss is different and has a real chance of winning. He grows to respect and adore her. The development of their relationship is very well done in the movie. I really enjoy that Haymitch starts from wanting nothing to do with her to emotionally investing in and battling for her throughout the games. Woody Harrelson does a very good job portraying Haymitch as both a foolhardy drunk and a resourceful, caring mentor.
The moment when the two completely bond is Katniss’s pregame assessment. Before the beginning of the Hunger Games, each tribute gets a private session to show their skills to the Gamemaker and sponsors. Based on the showcase, they will get a score of 1 to 12, with 12 being the highest possible score. It is a critical part of the process as a higher score gives a better chance of getting sponsors who will pay to send their favorite tributes items during the games such as medicine, food, and other items needed to survive. The items are sent via parachutes into the arena. Perhaps the most important lesson that Haymitch teaches Katniss is that she needs to get people to like her as it is the key to getting sponsors. Of course, Katniss wants to display her perfect marksmanship with a bow and arrow. However, her first shot is a misfire due to nerves and adjusting to a new bow. Although her second shot is a perfect Bullseye, the sponsors are dismissive of her and stopped paying attention after her initial missed shot. Katniss is infuriated and incensed as it is a very important moment that could decide whether she lives or dies and the rich snobs do not even give her enough respect to stayed focused for the allotted time. Katniss’s other faults is that she is impatient and has a short temper. As an act of defiance, she shoots an arrow into the sponsor’s booth through an apple in a pig’s mouth. Naturally, the Gamemaker and sponsors are shocked. In a defining and amazing moment in the movie, Katniss curtsies and simply states to the sponsors “Thank you for your consideration”. Haymitch is thrilled with Katniss’s actions as it shows her audacity, skill, and guts. Katniss is defiant like him and he loves it. He wishes he could have seen the stunned faces and calls her final words to them as “genius”. Similar to Haymitch, I fell in love with Katniss as a character for the same reasons in that moment. While there is initially fear that her actions angered the Gamemaker into giving her a lower score, he also admires her guts and gives her the highest score of all the tributes with an 11.
Of course, Haymitch is also wise in emphasizing the need for likeability. Another supporting character performed well in the movie is Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). He is instrumental in guiding Katniss into being likeable. While he is Katniss’s stylist and helps her look stunningly gorgeous, his real goal is to help her make an impression in the opening ceremony. Katniss volunteering to save her sister is the bravest thing Cinna has ever seen. In his words, “I just think someone that brave shouldn’t be dressed up in some stupid costume.” As such, he comes up with an extravagant idea for Katniss to enter on her chariot in a custom suit that makes her appear on fire. For this reason, he is responsible for Katniss being known as the unforgettable “girl on fire”. In a Capitol full of phony, superficial individuals, I like that Cinna is down to earth and does not spin anything. In general, I like straightforward, honest individuals that tell you the way things actually are. They are the same qualities Katniss likes. Accordingly, Cinna is one of the few people who can crack her tough exterior and gain her trust. As part of the pregame itinerary, each tribute also has a televised interview with the enthusiastic, flamboyant Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). Naturally, she is nervous as she is from a modest district and has no public speaking experience. Moreover, she knows she does not have a personality that can project and endear herself to a large crowd. Nevertheless, Cinna is able to reassure her and coach her through it. He reminds her that she was able to make him like her without trying. Accordingly, she just needs to be herself to win the crowd because she has a lot of innate, attractive qualities. As Cinna is one of the few people she is comfortable being herself around and talk, she focuses on him in the crowd whenever she is nervous so she can pretend she is talking to him. I really like how the story highlights Katniss’s flaws as well as her strengths as it makes her feel like a real person you can relate to as her moments of vulnerability are an excellent contrast to her rugged, badass demeanor. In my opinion, it is a major factor in why Katniss is such a beloved hero for her fans. I also like that the supporting characters are critical in helping her character development. Jennifer Lawrence and Lanny Kravitz do a great job portraying the relationship between Katniss and Cinna. In addition, he is the last person she sees before she enters the arena. In one of the most memorable and my favorite lines in the film, he tells her “I’m not allowed to bet, but if I could, I’d bet on you”.
During the Games, an alliance forms between the “Careers”. They are the tributes from Districts 1 and 2. In those districts, they train their whole lives in an academy for the Games then volunteer as tributes. For this reason, they are known as the “Careers”. As they are the best fighters and best trained to win the Games, they band together to hunt down the other tributes first. Of course, Katniss is their primary target as she is the “girl on fire” and had the highest pregame score. On the other hand, Katniss builds an alliance with an innocent, young girl from District 11, Rue. During the pregame events, Rue shadows Katniss as she wants to align with her but is too shy to ask. While Rue is small and not a physical threat, she is illusive, resourceful, and great at climbing and jumping around in trees. During the Games, Katniss is stung by Tracker Jackers, genetically engineered wasps that cause hallucinations. She is vulnerable as she fights through the hallucinations caused by the venom. For almost two days, Rue keeps Katniss hidden and nurses her back to health by applying leaves that draw out the venom. I like Rue as a character because it shows that even modest, overlooked underdogs are invaluable and make critical contributions. Moreover, she is a sweet, innocent girl. The book does a better job developing the relationship between Katniss and Rue. Katniss has affection for Rue because Rue reminds Katniss of her sister, Primrose. It is a point that is implied but not made clear in the movie. Accordingly, Katniss’s instincts are to take care of Rue. On the other hand, Rue needs Katniss to survive against the other bigger, vicious tributes. Of course, Rue can trust Katniss as demonstrated by her sacrifice to save her younger sister. For these reasons, there is a natural and enjoyable sister relationship between two girls. Nevertheless, there is a lot of sadness in their relationship because there is only one victor and you know at least one of them will need to die. The book is more detailed in describing Katniss’s dread of this idea. However, it would have been difficult for the movie to portray the relationship as well as the book as there are time constraints for a film.
Nevertheless, the film does an excellent job with Rue’s death. In my opinion, it is the most emotional and powerful scene in the movie. When she is mortally wounded, Katniss is shocked and holds the dying Rue in her arms. Rue’s last requests are for Katniss to win and sing to her. Accordingly, Katniss sings Rue the same song that she sings to sooth and calm Primrose’s fear earlier in the movie. It is a nice link to how Rue represents Primrose in the arena. Afterwards, Katniss is completely distraught and overcome by emotion as it feels as if Primrose died. She unleashes wails of despair and anger before laying flowers on top of Rue before the Capitol takes the body away. After Katniss collects herself, she looks at the cameras and gives Rue’s District 11 a salute. The scene captures the savage and sadistic nature of the Hunger Games. The Capitol dehumanizes the other districts so much that it shows no remorse in forcing innocent children in an arena to murder each other. Katniss’s anguish captures the helpless and sickening feelings the families of the tributes and their districts endure each year in the Hunger Games. The aftermath of Rue’s death is also significant. Katniss immediately becomes a hero to the districts for how she cared for Rue. More importantly, it shows them her pure, vulnerable side. The Careers are trained and bred to only kill and win. While Katniss is an exceptional hunter and marksman, her primary function in life is to care for her mother and sister. The districts get to see that side of Katniss through her relationship with Rue. Combined with her fighting prowess, it is the reason she is the perfect symbol for them. Moreover, Rue’s death is a tipping point that sparks a revolt in District 11. They have had enough of the subhuman treatment the Capitol inflicts on them.
Of course, another key character in the story is the male tribute from District 12, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson). He is a baker’s son. When Peeta is selected after Katniss volunteers, she is immediately reminded of the time that she was starving and sitting in the rain by the bakery. Peeta shows compassion by throwing a burnt loaf of bread in her direction. In reality, he burned the bread on purpose and incurred his mother’s wraith to help Katniss. Although the two have never had any other interaction, it is a moment that Katniss vividly remembers. While Peeta is very strong physically, he does not have the survival skills in the wild and mental toughness that Katniss has. In one of better and honest remarks in the book and movie, Peeta concedes to her that “I have no chance of winning! My mother said, ‘It looks like District 12 may finally have a winner.’ But she wasn’t talking about me. She was talking about you.” While he does not have the skills that Katniss has, he does have the qualities that she lacks: the ability to work a crowd and be likeable. While Katniss is insecure about how she is perceived, Peeta lacks confidence in his physical, fighting, and survival abilities. As such, they complement each other very well as their weaknesses are minimized by the other’s strengths. Josh Hutcherson does an excellent job portraying all the aspects of Peeta, especially the knack of winning the fondness of a crowd.
No scene displays Peeta’s social skills more than his interview with Caesar Flickerman. While Katniss was unsure and nervous at the beginning of her interview, Peeta is flawless. He is funny and playful with Caesar and the crowd. During the conversation, Caesar asks if Peeta has a special girl back home in his district. While Peeta does not have a girlfriend, he admits to having a crush on a girl back home. While Caesar suggests that she will have to go out with him if he returns home a winner, Peeta discloses that “I don’t think winning’s gonna help me at all… Because… she came here with me [alluding to Katniss].” When Katniss hears these remarks on television, she is incensed as she is a guarded individual that does not like to display her emotions or personal life publically. Moreover, she believes Peeta made her look weak. After she immediately attacks Peeta backstage, Haymitch steps in to calm her down. Katniss is so concerned with seeming tough all the time that she does not realize the compliment Peeta is giving her as well as the favor he did for her. Haymitch explains it perfectly when he assesses that “He made you look desirable, which in your case can’t hurt” and “Now I can sell the star crossed lovers from district 12. [to get sponsors]”. Nevertheless, Katniss protests that they are not star crossed lovers. Of course, Haymitch needs to remind her that “It’s a television show. And being in love with that boy might just get you sponsors, which could save your damn life.” Again, the scene shows how comfortable Peeta is with crowds and television as he is able to share his deepest feelings while Katniss has a very difficult time trying to be herself and staying poised in front of cameras. It highlights the importance of Peeta during the games as his charm and candidness rubs off on Katniss and helps her win the affection of the viewers and sponsors.
After Rue’s death, the Capitol is concerned about the uprisings in the districts and wants to kill Katniss to take away their rallying symbol. At this moment, Haymitch shows his craftiness as he convinces the Gamemaker that killing her will only make her a martyr that will escalate matters. Instead, he persuades the Gamemaker to give the people something to root for in young love. Accordingly, it is announced to the arena that there is a new rule that will allow two victors if they come from the same district. In other words, Katniss and Peeta can be dual winners and go home if they are the last two standing. When Katniss hears the announcement, she tracks down a severely injured Peeta and nurses him. Like the book, their time together during the Games is very intriguing. Even though she knows it is just for television, she has a difficult time pretending to show Peeta affection to play up the star crossed lovers angle. Nevertheless, Haymitch is able to coach her through written messages in the parachutes that carry items to them in the arena. When she only pecks Peeta on the cheek, Haymitch mocks her by writing “You call that a kiss?” Naturally, she looks in the camera with an annoyed look for Haymitch. In the book, Haymitch does not actually write messages. His guidance is implied through the items he sends (e.g. lesser items means she needs to do better). While that method is more enjoyable to read, I understand it needs to be spelled out in screen to save time.
While Katniss is more than less playing into the romance as a way to get sponsors, Peeta’s love for Katniss and their moments together in the games are real for him. In one of the better conversations in the movie, Peeta charms Katniss with the story that he fell in love with her when he first saw her in school at the age of five then heard her sing. In the book, Peeta’s father tells his son that he was in love with Katniss’s mother and wanted to marry her. However, she chose a coal miner because he wooed her with his singing voice. As such, it is ironic that his son, Peeta, fell in love with her daughter, Katniss, for the same reason. It is brilliant dialogue that could have easily and should have been included in the movie. Katniss’s hesitancy to allow her feelings for Peeta to be real is due to her actual feelings for Gale back home. Of course, Gale feels the same way as he feels jealous watching the romance broadcast on television. While I am not a big fan of love triangles, this threesome is very well done in the sequels in the book trilogy. Katniss and Gale appear destined and born to be together so you find yourself rooting for the relationship to work. However, Peeta is also worthy and truly loves her. The idea of him winning Katniss’s heart grows on you. As a result, you become unsure of which relationship you want to work out but you can defer the decision to Katniss. Katniss has much of the same thoughts. While she definitely loves Gale, one can only pretend a romance for so long without there being real, underlying adoration for Peeta. Accordingly, she will have a difficult time reconciling her feelings. There is great material in the books for “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay” Parts 1 and 2 to work with in the movie sequels.
The environment of the Hunger Games arena is completely controlled by the Gamemaker and his team. They can start and end fires, add genetically mutated creatures such as the Tracker Jackers, and control night and day. When the tributes are down to four, the Gamemaker is in a rush to end the Games. As such, he releases genetically engineered dogs that will attack the tributes so they will be forced back to the Cornucopia, where they started, on top of a hovercraft for a final battle. In the movie, the dogs are simply scary beasts. In the book, it details how each of them resembles a face of a fallen tribute. Accordingly, Katniss is horrified believing the Capitol is twisted enough to mutate the deceased bodies of tributes into monsters. It definitely causes the reader to hate the Capitol even more. However, the final battle in the book is much longer and it is not necessary for the movie. In the book and the film, Katniss and Peeta are able to fend off the other remaining tribute and are the final two. Unfortunately, the Gamemaker rescinds the rule amendment allowing two victors as the Capitol wants Katniss and Peeta to turn on each other. For the purposes of keeping control of the districts, it sends a very important message. It reminds the districts that while there is always hope, the Capitol still completely owns and controls them all. There are no exceptions in the Games just as in life. Accordingly, there can only be one victor. The Capitol hopes that this reminder will crush any ambitions for another rebellion.
However, the decision backfires on the Capitol. Katniss is naturally defiant and has no intention of giving in. Before the final battle, Katniss gathered deadly nightlock berries that will kill anyone quickly after ingesting them. As such, she gives a handful to Peeta so they can eat them at the same time to deny the Capitol its victor. The move is a stroke of genius as Katniss has no intentions of dying but wants to force the Capitol’s hand. The Gamemaker panics at the prospect of no victor and intervenes by announcing that Katniss and Peeta are the first ever, dual winners. Of course, Katniss’s actions are a major problem for President Snow and the Capitol. It is an act of defiance and Katniss successfully got away with it. It only encourages rebellion if the Capitol cannot quickly demonstrate it still has total control. For Seneca Crane’s failure to control the situation during the Games as Gamemaker, guards lock him in a room with a bowl full of nightlock berries. It is a nice touch for the movie as it is only hinted at that he is executed in the books with ambiguity about the method. During the award ceremony, President Snow notices that Katniss has a pin in the shape of a Mockingjay. It was a gift to her from a vendor in her district at the very beginning of the movie and foreshadowed Katniss’s importance. Of course, the Mockingjay and Katniss are now symbols. On the train ride home to District 12, Peeta asks “So what happens when we get back?” Katniss responds with “I don’t know. I guess we try to forget.” It is a disappointing answer for Peeta as he realizes that Katniss faked her feelings for him to survive the Hunger Games. However, he does not want to forget because the romance was real for him. Of course, it is not the end of the story. President Snow watches their return to District 12 on television and plots on how to punish and use Katniss to maintain order in his country. He needs to figure out how to stop a rebellion from “Catching Fire”. Nevertheless, it may be too late as the fire rises.
For the Retrospective Reviews on the sequels, please see links below: