“The Hunger Games”

Courtesy of Lions Gate Entertainment

What makes science fiction a brilliant means to impart a message to the people? It possesses the inherent ability to apply its speculative essence to our reality.

Whenever humanity encounters a controversial subject matter, we express discomfort at the notion of discussing the issue in a real-world setting. As a result, science fiction enables us to gain insight into and reflect on serious issues within environments different from ours. The key to its success as a commentator on contentious topics, however, lies within the imaginary world’s striking resemblance to the one we know. Even the most outlandish stories contain a plausible link to real life. With that being said, “The Hunger Games” reminds us of everything that gives science fiction a meaningful purpose.

Based on the first installment of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling young adult trilogy, “The Hunger Games” depicts a future in which the wealthy inhabitants of the Capitol punish its impoverished Districts for an earlier rebellion by having them each send a girl and a boy to the annual televised contest of the same name. There, the tributes fight to the death until one remains standing; this provides amusement for the Capitol and makes an example of the Districts. The main characters, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark, (Josh Hutcherson) are tributes from District 12.

Director Gary Ross (“Pleasantville” and “Seabiscuit”) does a commendable job at handling the film adaptation with respect and care. He focuses on approaching the story through a realistic perspective in order to capture the anguish, shock and brutality of this violent contest. In the end, he succeeds in retaining the narrative’s adult nature. While he keeps from showing too much of the tributes’ violent deaths, the implications are still present.

In terms of entertainment value, the chances of disappointment are unlikely. We are treated to action sequences that exude a genuine impact every time; the director’s choice to shoot on location adds to this advantage. There are numerous moments in which shaky cam techniques are visible, but one might find them to actually be useful in conveying the tributes’ frenetic motions as they traverse the terrain and engage in combat.

When it comes to thematic value, anyone seeking food for thought will be given plenty to discuss after watching the film. For one, there is the classic totalitarian omnipresence. The notion of broadcasting adolescents killing each other in a competition on a public network can be seen as an allegory for reality TV, and the difference between image and truth is a recurring motif as well. Survival is pitted against compassion as the tributes hunt and kill, with varying results.

Finding a cast that seamlessly embodies its characters in a high-profile film is rare nowadays, considering that we usually find someone either miscast in a certain role or given too little to do. Fortunately, “The Hunger Games” does not suffer from this misfortune; all the key characters, both lead and supporting, make the most of their onscreen moments.

Jennifer Lawrence was born to play Katniss; nobody else could have pulled off the role the way she did. It is as if she commands everything relevant to her character — the way she breathes as she hides, the way she runs across the land, the way she uses bows and arrows as her weapon of choice, the way she does not want to kill people but has to so that she can return home to care for her mother and sister.

Josh Hutcherson’s portrayal of the heartfelt Peeta is spot-on. Something worth noting is how his character is atypical of male leads; he may not be as proficient in survivalist skills as Katniss is, but what he lacks in field experience he makes up for in improvisation.

Woody Harrelson infuses his Haymitch Abernathy with an excellent balance of drunken sarcasm and genuine concern for the two leads. Elizabeth Banks is virtually unrecognizable as the vivacious Effie Trinket, thanks to her frilly attire and kabuki-esque makeup. Stanley Tucci and Lenny Kravitz deliver solid performances as the eccentric TV personality Caesar Flickerman and the humble fashion stylist Cinna, respectively. Amandla Stenberg hits all the right notes in her portrayal of Rue, the female tribute from District 11. The regal yet sinister President Snow is conveyed in thorough detail by veteran actor Donald Sutherland.

Whether you either have read the book or will do soon at some point in your life, you will definitely feel the emotional power and heart-pounding impression of “The Hunger Games.” It is, without a doubt, one of the best science fiction films ever made and a prime example of expressive storytelling via the hardships undertaken by its characters.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5