(Major spoilers ahead)
The land of Panem has twelve districts or so,
Who all rose up seventy-four years ago.
The Capitol beat them and since has drawn names
Of two teens from each district to fight Hunger Games,
A televised, glamorized duel to the death,
Which only ends once a lone victor draws breath.
In poor District 12, Katniss Everdeen wants
To help sister Primrose and mom, so she hunts.
She goes with young Prim and her handsome friend Gale
To the annual Reaping, where all their hopes fail.
The vain Effie Trinket draws Prim, who had fears,
But Katniss steps forward, and she volunteers.
Once Peeta Mellark, the town baker’s son,
Is picked as the male and goodbyes are all done,
They leave on a train that is meant for the rich
And meet the lone victor from 12 named Haymitch.
He may be a drunk, but he gives them advice:
To earn sponsors, they have to act friendly and nice.
Like Effie, the Capitol’s full of vain posers,
Multi-hued, glossily shallow brownnosers.
Their stylist Cinna can’t help but admire
Brave Katniss. His clothing designs can catch fire;
This earns welcome praise as both tributes hold hands,
Making 12 the new favorite for those in the stands.
As Peeta and Katniss are lavished with pleasures,
They’re rather uncomfortable with all these treasures.
In training, they both earn some slight recognition
From twenty-two others, who’ll be competition.
While Peeta can paint camouflage and is strong,
It’s Katniss the archer who shines all along.
In televised interviews, Peeta admits
That he’s loved Katniss secretly, giving her fits,
But this makes them popular, letting folks delve
Into tales of the two star-crossed lovers from 12.
Though scared when the day of the contest arrives,
Both Katniss and Peeta will fight for their lives.
A forest environment is their terrain,
And both avoid being the first of the slain.
While Katniss runs off to try hiding from view,
Her counterpart Peeta joins with 1 and 2,
Who’ve teamed up to hunt down the weak that remain
Before they start fighting each other again.
The gamemaker Seneca Crane uses flame
To drive Katniss back to the heart of the game.
When cornered by tributes, she takes out a foe
By dropping a wasp nest on those down below.
Assisted by District 11’s young Rue,
She blows up the enemies’ food supply too.
When Rue meets her death and her friend is grieved by it,
The men in 11 start causing a riot.
To give people hope, Crane adjusts what has been
So that Katniss and Peeta can both perhaps win.
She finds him and helps save his life and, what’s more,
Confesses her love, just as he had before.
Attacked by Crane’s beasts, they seek refuge until
They’re assaulted by one last opponent to kill.
When they are alone and they think that they’ve won,
They’re told that the earlier change is undone.
With poisonous berries, they bluff suicide,
But needing a victor, Crane’s fit to be tied.
Crane lets them both win, a choice sure to cause strife,
And for this decision, he pays with his life.
Both Katniss and Peeta, relieved from the threat,
Return to 12, maybe to try and forget.
But threats exist outside the Hunger Games, though,
And they have displeased mighty President Snow.
Though Katniss and Peeta have safely returned
To bleak District 12 with the prize that they’ve earned,
Though they now have comfort they never have known,
Poor Katniss feels guilt with no way to atone.
They now have to go on a victory tour
To give people hope, which is misery’s cure,
But President Snow knows that Peeta and she
Were faking their love for the districts to see.
He says that they’d better convince with their act
And make folks believe, to keep Panem intact.
He shows her a picture to say, if they fail,
He’ll punish their loved ones, including friend Gale.
Yet, by the people, they are not endorsed;
They’re not in the mood for a love that seems forced.
They want to rebel, just as Katniss had done
When she used the berries to spoil Snow’s fun.
They mingle and mix at a Capitol ball,
And how people live cannot help but appall.
There Katniss runs into Plutarch Heavensbee,
The newest gamemaker who took the job free.
When Katniss suggests she and Peeta be wed
To keep people happy, though strife is widespread,
This Plutarch tells Snow that they ought to crack down
To make people hate her in her wedding gown.
Snow’s soldiers attack on a much larger scale,
And Katniss steps in when they start whipping Gale.
This open defiance leads Snow to desire
The victors destroyed to extinguish the fire.
The seventy-fifth Hunger Games will excel
At granting his wish; it’s a rare Quarter Quell,
And Snow soon announces that tributes will come
From the group of contestants who’ve already won.
Since Katniss is 12’s only female to win,
It’s Peeta or Haymitch who’ll also be in.
When Haymitch is picked, Peeta does volunteer
To fight beside Katniss just like the last year.
They meet prior victors, like Finnick Odair,
Who’s friendly but cocky and acts debonair,
And Beetee and Wiress, who let science fight,
And 7’s Johanna, who’s forward all right.
They train as before, but the tributes are sore
For having to fight for survival once more.
They try to subvert the support for the games
But are not successful at thwarting Snow’s aims.
For using his fashions to rouse and incite,
Her stylist Cinna is dragged from her sight.
The Games then begin, as the tributes all rise
And figure out who are their chosen allies.
They fight on a lake and then everyone hides
In the jungle that stretches away on all sides.
Both Katniss and Peeta join Finnick of 4
And run into force fields and dangers galore.
First near-deadly shocks and then poisonous mist
And then killer monkeys, and all they resist.
They flee to the center and find, through a yell,
Johanna and Wiress and Beetee as well.
They realize this place is set up like a clock,
With dangers in sections and force fields that block.
Soon Wiress is killed, and the whole clock is spun
To mess up their plan and confuse everyone.
Still, Beetee decides they must go to a tree,
Where huge lightning bolts strike regularly.
From there they can shock all the foes that remain,
And what follows that is not made very plain.
The group is ambushed as they try Beetee’s route;
Johanna cuts Katniss’s tracker right out.
She’s cut off from Peeta and goes to the tree
To find Beetee hurt to an unknown degree.
Confused at what’s happening, Katniss is given
A chance to shoot Finnick; instead, she is driven
To shoot up an arrow connected to wire,
Which shocks the arena and causes a fire.
The whole dome shuts down, leaving Snow quite aghast,
And Heavensbee’s gone, having gotten out fast.
Though Katniss is injured, she still is okay
And sees a ship swoop in and lift her away.
She wakens to learn Heavensbee’s on her side,
And half of the tributes were slyly allied.
The plan all along was to get Katniss free,
And take her to District 13 covertly.
But Katniss is mad at Haymitch and distraught,
For Peeta, as well as Johanna, were caught.
She further learns Gale and her family are fine,
But District 12’s gone, and now Snow’s crossed the line.
I was initially dubious about The Hunger Games, viewing a tale of juvenile gladiatorial games as a new low in a culture craving “bread and circuses.” I had not read Suzanne Collins’s books and had only heard rumors about their violence and unfortunately young fan base. Once I finally saw the film, I was impressed, not only at how relatively restrained the bloodshed was but also at how the themes of violence were subtly denounced and subverted by stronger themes of compassion and sacrifice. For instance, Katniss only kills in self-defense (and even that haunted her afterward), and her grief at Rue’s death includes a beautiful tribute both to the fallen friend and to extinguished innocence itself. It still bothers me that a seven-year-old at my church was singing its praises, but The Hunger Games is certainly a worthwhile story for young adults and up.
Then the second film made it even better. Not only did it avoid the kids-killing-kids concerns (I know, adults killing adults isn’t much better), but it provided a much stronger freedom-fighting angle while retaining the positive themes and laudable characters. Not to mention the action of the Games themselves, at once clever and frightening, with a touch of paranoia, moral quandaries, and relieving humor. In both films, it takes an inordinate amount of time just to reach the titular tournament, but this setup is necessary for the characters and the drama to build to the climax, which doesn’t disappoint.
I probably admire the second film more, thanks to its more detailed arena and its game-changing twist ending, but my VC enjoys the first more because it develops its characters further. Catching Fire does suffer from a host of new secondary characters that we aren’t given quite enough time to trust, much less grow fond of, such as Finnick and Johanna. Yet I was distressed by Cinna’s fate, even though he only had some brief scenes in the first film; I expect the other characters will grow similarly in the next two installments of the series.
The love triangle is uninspired, but there’s little negative to say about Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, and Liam Hemsworth as Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, respectively. At this point, I believe these will be their most enduring roles. Supporting players are also at the top of their games, including Woody Harrelson as drunk but faithful Haymitch, Elizabeth Banks as vain but surprisingly caring Effie Trinket, Donald Sutherland as the menacing President Snow, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as turncoat Plutarch Heavensbee.
Post-Harry Potter, The Hunger Games remains the shining example of a young-adult-book-sensation-turned-movie-series. Twilight tried and failed; Percy Jackson tried and didn’t exactly succeed; and further attempts to match its success have continued this year with Divergent, The Giver, and The Maze Runner. It’s not every film that features some pop culture-worthy lines and an instantly recognizable whistle. The quality of acting, script, and overall production sets The Hunger Games apart and manages to overcome its less pleasant aspects. I’m not one to jump on many band wagons, and, not having read the books, I’m unsure how the next two films will work without the integral Games, but I’m definitely looking forward to Mockingjay – Part 1 (even though Part 1 = the Quest for More Money). Who isn’t?
Best line from The Hunger Games: (President Snow, speaking for any authoritarian dictatorship) “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.”
Best line from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: (Katniss) “Nobody decent ever wins the games.” (Haymitch) “Nobody ever wins the games. Period. There are survivors. There’s no winners.”
Visual Effects: 10
Watchability: 8 (surprisingly)
Other (violence): -1
TOTAL: 50 out of 60
Next: #114 – The Right Stuff
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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