Picture from The Hunger Games
Overall B-

Take old-fashioned gladiator games and modern-day reality TV programs and you have The Hunger Games. Set in a future time, this survivor show is televised to the masses. But getting volunteers to fight to the death takes a bit of forceful persuasion. When Katniss Everdeen's (Jennifer Lawrence) younger sister (Willow Shields) is conscripted, the older teen selflessly decides to go in her place.

Violence D+
Sexual Content B+
Profanity B
Substance Use C+

The Hunger Games

President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is the dictator of a post-apocalyptic country called Panem, where North America once existed. He resides in the highly advanced city called The Capitol, while the rest of the citizens live in 12 districts in various states of poverty. The residents of each are compelled yearly to surrender their teenaged children into a lottery where two dozen unlucky “tributes”—one male and one female from each district—will be forced to fight to their death. When 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) younger sister is selected, she immediately presents her own name instead and volunteers to compete in The Hunger Games.

Katniss is from District 12, a coal mining area that looks like today’s Appalachia, where she supports her distraught mother and younger sister by illegally hunting food along the border—often with her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth). She and the 18-year-old boy share the tragedy of losing their fathers in a mine explosion. Now pulled from her family and Gale’s life, Katniss’ only chance of winning the bloody gladiator-style battle may be her tough upbringing and bow-hunting skills.

The “game” is a big event in The Capitol, with an Olympic-like buildup. The tributes are donned in outlandish costumes and paraded through the city. After the pageantry is complete they are brought to a stage and interviewed by Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), the host of the reality television show that covers the sport in great detail. From there the mostly starving and untrained competitors are placed in posh quarters, fed copious amounts of food, and put into a regime to help hone their survival and fighting abilities.

Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the other tribute from her area, are offered the mentoring services of Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a drunkard who managed to win the games a few decades earlier. His help does nothing to make the situation look more hopeful for these two kids who hail from the poorest district in the land.

Based on an adolescent novel that has risen to meteoric popularity since it’s early 2008 release, this movie brings the story’s gruesome concept to life with many violent scenes of teens slaying their opponents. Relative to other very violent PG-13 films, the carnage depicted here is muted with fast camera moves and cuts to another scene just as a knife or sword is about to do its bidding. However the stark reality of what is taking place still makes this film a troubling tale. For example, movies like The Dark Knight (also rated PG-13) feature costume-clad characters murdering each other in a fantastical world. In contrast, the young characters in The Hunger Games look like the kids your teens hang out with at school.

A romantic triangle is a small diversion from the main plotline, which admittedly holds your attention entirely during the over two-hour runtime. Teens who have read the books will undoubtedly be interested in viewing this solidly produced movie that contains only a few mild profanities and a kiss between young characters. Although the script may also spur important discussions about freedom, the consequences of war and, ironically, our insatiable appetite for viewing violence in media, parents should still be cautious. It’s important to recognize that, unlike the printed page where a reader’s imagination directs the images that come to mind, on a movie screen the director is in charge—just like the dictator who has arranged The Hunger Games.

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