“Hunger Games” a haunting meal

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Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence

A scream rings out over the heads of a silent crowd. A slight young girl is pulled from her sister’s arms and carried away as the young woman turns to face her fate.

There are many haunting scenes to be witnessed in the newly released movie, “The Hunger Games,” an adaptation of the first of three novels by Suzanne Collins. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic society called Panem, a union of 12 districts controlled by a central power, known as the Capitol.

To keep the citizens of Panem from rebelling against them, the Capitol hosts the annual Hunger Games. A boy and a girl from each district are forced to be tributes and participate in the games. In a televised event, 24 children enter an arena full of deadly surprises. Only one is allowed to leave.

Gary Ross could be considered an odd choice to direct this dark film, given his history in directing lighter films like “Pleasantville” and “Seabiscuit.” Fans of the book worried Ross would not capture the essence of the harsh action and horror in the original story. However, Ross did a fine job translating the emotions from the page to the screen.

The book was written in the first person, so some of the back-story and a few facts had to be introduced in a way that would make sense to the movie audience. While the storyline may perhaps be clearer to those who have read the book, Ross and screenwriter Billy Ray made an accurate transition from the page to the screen.

The main protagonist in the movie is the tribute from the coal-mining District 12, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). When her younger sister, Prim (Willow Shields), is chosen as the female tribute for District 12, Katniss volunteers to be a tribute in her place.

While perhaps too beautiful and well fed, in terms of attitude Jennifer Lawrence is Katniss. Reminiscent of the character of Ree, whom she played in Winter’s Bone, Lawrence plays a girl who is both gentle and maternal and yet has a tough side that shuns the need for help.

The other younger protagonist is Katniss’s fellow tribute from District 12, Peeta Mellark, played by Josh Hutcherson. Peeta is the baker’s son, worlds apart from the coal-mining world Katniss lives in. Despite this, there is a sense of history between the two of them that gives the view a hint of something more to come. Hutcherson does a very good job at portraying the gentle nature and kindness of Peeta.

Viewers may recognize Donald Sutherland in his role as President Snow, the ruler of Panem. At almost 77, Sutherland is a man of numerous achievements. His portrayal of the cold, threatening president is spot on and causes shivers down viewers’ spines, although he is perhaps more present throughout the film than his character was in the book.

A couple of other noticeable names are Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson.

Tucci plays the colorful and sickeningly cheerful Hunger Games television host, Caesar Flickerman. Decked out in sparkling clothes and topped by a shock of bright blue hair, Tucci as Flickerman amuses viewers, while at the same time inciting the urge to punch him right in his over-bright smile.

Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch Abernathy, the perpetually drunk mentor to the District 12 tributes. Harrelson is wonderfully sarcastic and fatalistic, although fans of the book may see Harrelson as too put together to play Haymitch. Despite this, Harrelson fits in well with the big screen version of this story.

The director of photography for “The Hunger Games,” also deserves mention. Tom Stern is best known for his work on many of Clint Eastwood’s films, and he captures the scenery well. From the stark misery of District 12 to the Hunger Games arena, Stern captures the surroundings from the book and brings them to life.

Also captured by the camera is the sense of what the tributes are going through. Some may find the sudden jerks and juddering of the camera a little off-putting, however, it gives the audience an idea of what it would actually be like to run for their lives.

One aspect of the film measured up to and surpassed the book. When reading “The Hunger Games,” you know that the people being killed are children. However, reading about the events in the book is different than watching them play out on screen. Viewers are suddenly aware of the youth of the people killing and being killed, and it makes for a very different perspective.

“The Hunger Games” is a book loved by millions of people, and the movie does it justice. For those who have not read the story, they may want to after watching it. Viewers will fall in love, for the first time or all over again, with the strong willed Katniss and the kind Peeta. Filled with action, heartbreaking choices, and a wonderful cast, it is a movie worth a trip to the theaters.