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'Hunger Games' Burns Brightly

The buzz from this movie is hard to explain. I thought I'd try anyway.

Reviewing The Hunger Games in its second week in theaters seems futile. Clearly, millions of moviegoers didn’t need me, an unknown blogger, to tell them whether or not the film adaptation of the first book of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of young adult novels was worth checking out last weekend. Thanks to a record-setting box office and mostly positive word of mouth, millions more moviegoers – and many repeat viewers – will no doubt see the film in the weeks and months to come, no matter what I write in the Waukesha Patch.

But as the buzz of my own moviegoing experience – 12:15 a.m. last Friday at The Majestic – continues to keep me awake days later, I’m gripped by this urge to write, to share, and to try to explain, if only to myself, how absolutely thrilling this movie was. The problem is, I lack the words. Um, it was cool? It was true to the book? Jennifer Lawrence was awesome as Katniss? The two-plus-hours really flew? The movie had everything: fire, archery, kids killing kids, a boozy Woody Harrelson in a leonine wig… It hit me like an arrow through the abdomen. Huzzah!

This is the part where I tell you the plot. In a dystopic future, in a country like America, the government stages a yearly competition – part Survivor, part Lord of the Flies – to entertain the common folk while keeping them in fear. This competition, the titular Hunger Games, plucks one unlucky boy and girl from 12 impoverished districts, puts them in elaborate costumes and training montages, and then makes them fight to the death, on TV. The winner gets glory and food for his/her district. The entire viewing audience, which is the entire populace, gets an action-packed reminder not to mess with the big bad government ever again. It’s sick in the sense of both “awesome” and “sick.”

When Katniss’ little sister Primrose is selected as a contestant, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She leaves behind her hunting buddy, Gale, and reconnects with the baker’s son and fellow contestant, Peeta, setting up a love triangle and plot points for the next two books. In the arena, the star-crossed combatants begin to question the system, thinking deep thoughts about survival, morality, and love – plus mutant bees, curlicue beards, and Lenny Kravitz’s surprising depth. How can they keep their humanity pure while LOOK OUT, KATNISS! THAT BAD GIRL HAS A SPEAR!

If the whole thing seems ridiculous, it’s not. No way. Not to the girls who screamed in delight and cheered for a heroine who was roughly their age. Not to this blogger, a 30-something man, who turned Collins’ pages as if they were on fire and stared at the screen until his eyes burned holes. (These fire metaphors make more sense in context.)

It’s hard to review, or even explain, even more so than most works of art. What I am reviewing, the film, or the phenomenon? The movie itself, or the experience of watching it? All of them are visceral, memorable, and fiery. (No more talk of fire. I promise. Even I’m burned out, like an ember.)

Months ago, The Hunger Games felt like no other book I’d ever read. Last weekend, The Hunger Games felt like no other movie I’d ever seen. In short, I loved it. That’s all I can say. This could’ve (should’ve?) been a three-word review. I’m still buzzing. 

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Isaac March 29, 2012 at 02:40 AM
I think this movie was about the closest to the book I have ever seen. I mean, maybe one or two changes here and there, but a pretty great movie. Compared to Harry Potter, I think, The Hunger Games totally blew it out of the water.
Victor Drover March 29, 2012 at 12:19 PM
The movie was good, but i thought the production value was a lot lower than I expected for something being billed as the next big franchise like Lord of the Rings. As always, the book was much better :)
Matthew Webber March 29, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Thanks for the comments, guys! I'm happy to see I'm not the only man who enjoyed the book and movie.
James R Hoffa April 02, 2012 at 03:52 AM
Hmm... having not read the book or seen this film yet, I am able to surmise from your review that 'The Hunger Games' is probably a cross between George Lucas's 'THX 1138' (1971) and 'The Blood of Heroes' (1989) with the surreal feel of a Patrick McGoohan's 'The Prisoner' (TV Series 1967-1968) episode. Would such an assessment be accurate?
Matthew Webber April 02, 2012 at 07:23 PM
Alas, I haven't seen those films you mentioned. But "The Hunger Games" shares a lot with other dystopic fictions, from the time period (futuristic, with shades of the present) to the character's journey (a young innocent tossed into a game with life-and-death stakes). It's a classic dystopic fiction. So it probably fits.

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