Movie review: ‘Mockingjay – Part 2’ ends Hunger Games saga on a grim note

hungergamesfinalheaderHunger Games victor and rebel hero Katniss Everdeen’s journey comes to an end in “Mockingjay – Part 2,” the final film in the Hunger Games saga. We’ve watched Katniss deal with the aftermath of winning the Hunger Games, where a cruel post-apocalyptic government forces teenagers to fight to the death in an arena as punishment for a failed uprising years ago. Katniss then finds herself as the unexpected head of a new rebellion, and the “girl on fire” becomes the “Mockingjay,” a symbol of defiance. However, for the rebels, victory comes with great sacrifice, and Katniss will lose some of those dearest to her in the fight.

“Mockingjay – Part 2” closes out the Hunger Games franchise on a fairly solid but grim note. It doesn’t rise to the same heights as “Catching Fire,” which arguably remains the strongest film in the series, but it quickly establishes itself as a stronger film than “Mockingjay – Part 1,” which felt more like a placeholder in the franchise. Lately Hollywood has been splitting the final books of trilogies into two parts, and the results aren’t always strong. Too much of “Mockingjay – Part 1” felt like filler. However, what’s done is done, and thankfully “Mockingjay – Part 2” improves upon its predecessor.

While I am a big fan of the Hunger Games books and movies, I did not really like the book “Mockingjay,” and it seems a number of other fans didn’t, either. It is, at times, a strange and unsettling book, and it’s different in tone from the other two books in the trilogy. The ending feels rushed and unsatisfactory, and several major character deaths are glossed over, without giving the other characters—or the readers—time to grieve. I was so frustrated with the book I actually threw it across the room after finishing it.

I actually liked “Mockingjay – Part 2” better than the book. I don’t know whether that’s because the film actually handled some of the plot issues better than the book did, or whether some of those issues just bothered me less because I already knew what was going to happen (I think it was probably a little of both). In this film, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) leads a band of rebels into the Capitol, supposedly to shoot propaganda footage to convince the citizens of the Capitol to surrender and prevent further bloodshed. However, the unit ends up drawing heavy enemy fire and Katniss turns the operation into a mission to kill President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and end the war once and for all.

Jennifer Lawrence is great, once again, as Katniss; I really can’t imagine any other actress playing this role. There are some other great supporting players: Donald Sutherland is elegantly terrifying as President Snow; Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks are great as Katniss’ mentor and stylist, Haymitch and Effie; and Sam Claflin and Jena Malone also are excellent as Finnick and Johanna, two former victors who join the rebellion. Unfortunately, they don’t get as much screen time in this film.

The special effects are good, with some truly terrifying “pods” (high-tech traps) waiting for the rebels in the Capitol. There’s not a lot of down time in this film, or moments of humor. It’s a tense rush to the finish, with some surprising twists along the way.

*Spoiler alert!*

Two parts that bothered me most about the book were the deaths of Finnick and Prim, Katniss’ younger sister. The deaths are covered hastily and without a lot of reflection for these two fan-favorite characters. These deaths are still rough in the movie, but I felt the film covered the significance of their deaths better and gave us some time to process their loss.

I also thought the film did a better job setting up the somewhat shocking ending, where Katniss ends up assassinating the rebellion’s new leader instead of President Snow. It’s up to the viewer to decide if it actually was a morally justifiable decision, but at least to me it felt like the movie made it a little clearer that the rebellion’s new leader was dangerous and could, in time, become just as terrible a tyrant as President Snow.

*End spoiler alert!*

I’m curious to see what other fans of the books, and those who are just fans of the movies, thought of this film. “Catching Fire” remains my favorite film in the franchise, but I did enjoy “Mockingjay – Part 2” more than the book it was based on. The Hunger Games series has offered some timely moral and political themes. The books and the films aren’t always comfortable or easy to process, but I do think they have something important to say. It’s too bad the two films kicking off the franchise are stronger than the films wrapping it up.

Fall/winter 2015 movie preview

star-wars-the-force-awakens-bb8-daisy-ridleyAnother summer movie season has come and gone, but there are plenty of movies to look forward to in this year’s fall/winter line-up, including a Bond film, the final chapter in the Hunger Games series and a certain little science fiction film directed by J.J. Abrams. Here are the five films I’m most looking forward to this fall and winter. Let me know what films you’re most excited about, as well!

The Martian (Oct. 2)

1E2FE3ADSpace movies seem to be experiencing a bit of a resurgence, with “Gravity” achieving commercial and critical success in 2013, followed by Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” in 2014. “The Martian” continues that trend, highlighting mankind’s feelings of fascination — and fear — about the dark reaches of outer space.

Based on a best-selling novel, “The Martian” is a survival story about an astronaut stranded on Mars after his team members have to abort their mission. It has a fantastic cast — Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, just to name a few — and the trailer certainly caught my attention.

Pan (Oct. 9)

PANThis is my wildcard pick for this fall and winter movie season. It could be really good, or it could be bad; it’s one of those films I don’t think will fall in the “in between” zone. We’ve seen Peter Pan on film plenty of times before, and even in Disney’s mash-up TV show “Once Upon a Time,” but this appears to be a darker take on the famous story.

The film features an almost unrecognizable Hugh Jackman as the pirate Blackbeard and has Peter befriending his future nemesis, Captain Hook. Retellings of famous fairytales can be hit or miss in Hollywood. For every live-action fairytale adaptation that’s good (such as this year’s charming “Cinderella”), there’s one that’s pretty bad (the 2012 Snow White retelling “Mirror Mirror”). “Pan” could be a fun twist on the Peter Pan legend, or it could fail to hit the mark.

Spectre (Nov. 6)

SpectreDaniel Craig continues his run as James Bond in “Spectre,” the follow-up to 2012’s blockbuster “Skyfall.” I love Craig’s portrayal as Bond; he brought fresh life to the Bond franchise back in 2006 with “Casino Royale,” which is still my all-time favorite spy film.

I’m excited to see the new series delve into classic Bond history, presumably charting the rise of the mysterious criminal syndicate Spectre. I’ll miss seeing Judi Dench as M, the head of MI6, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what Ralph Fiennes brings to the role. It will be interesting to see if this is Craig’s last outing as Bond, and if so, what film makers have planned next for the franchise.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2 (Nov. 20)

Film Review The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1I still wish the film makers hadn’t split the final Hunger Games novel into two films instead of one (especially since “Mockingjay — Part 1” mostly felt like a two-hour long trailer for the series finale). But what’s done is done, and judging by the trailer, this film will bring back the sense of dangerous tension that made “Catching Fire” such a thrilling watch.

Many fans of the book have complained about the series’ ending, and I’m hoping the film will fix some of the issues, such as abrupt and jarring character deaths that don’t give the other characters (or readers) time to grieve. Let’s hope the final film ends the franchise on a high note.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Dec. 18)

Star-Wars-Force-Awakens-First-Order-stormtroopersThis is, hands down, my most anticipated film of the year and, OK, I’ll be honest, of the decade (I’m just a little excited about this). I’m also incredibly nervous, because this is my all-time favorite film franchise. But I’ve got a good feeling about this. The cast is solid. The costumes look great. The trailer gave me goosebumps. And I believe J.J. Abrams and Co. will be able to pull it off.

As a fan of the Star Wars Expanded Universe novels, it was a little hard to let go of stories and characters I’d already come to love. I don’t know how much, if any, of those details or characters will show up in the new Star Wars universe. But this is a brand-new Star Wars movie — in theaters — something I didn’t think I’d ever get to see. As much as I want to know more about the plot, I’m trying to avoid learning too much about it, because I want to be surprised and simply let the film sweep me away. I’m excited that we all get to return to that galaxy far, far away. I hope it will be magical.

From page to screen: Challenges of book to movie adaptations

hunger-games-instagram-catching-fire-book-third“The movie was OK, but the book was so much better.”

This is a comment I often hear whenever Hollywood comes out with a new book-to-movie adaptation. Books have long been a favorite source of inspiration for film makers, from the classic “The Maltese Falcon” to the recent box office blockbuster, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” Many of the all-time highest grossing movies have been based on novels, such as the “Harry Potter” series (that list grows even longer when you include films based on comic books, such as “The Avengers”).

Many times, however, fans express frustration about how Hollywood chooses to adapt well-loved books: favorite characters are left out, plot lines are condensed, events are altered, etc. The original book almost becomes a sacred text, and directors fear to veer too far off the page.

I used to be a stickler when it came to book-to-movie adaptations (I can probably still name all the places where Peter Jackson deviated from “The Lord of the Rings” novels in his film series). But I’ve become more lenient recently, and I think sometimes fans are a little too tough on the film versions of books. Film as a medium has different needs than a novel, and what works on the page doesn’t always work on the big screen.

Even if a film’s runtime is longer than normal, like the 3+ hours in the “The Lord of the Rings” movies, there’s only so much content you can pack into one movie before it becomes overstuffed. Subplots that work just fine on the page can clog up a film and slow down its pacing. Some characters, details, etc. simply may have to be cut out to keep the film moving.

For example, Peter Jackson cut a chunk out of the ending of “The Return of the King.” In the original novel, Frodo and the other hobbits return to the Shire to find it has been taken over by the wizard Saruman (in the movie version, Saruman is killed early on in the story, and the hobbits return home without event). This used to bother me, but I think Jackson probably made the right decision. Even though I liked this part in the book, it would have extended the film’s ending and would have changed the tone Jackson was trying to build. If you had to pick a part from the book to leave out that would make the least impact on the overall narrative, that was likely it.

Trying to stick too closely to a book can cripple film makers, especially in the case of good books that may not translate as well to the big screen. This is the way I felt about “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” While I loved the previous two Narnia films, I felt “Dawn Treader” was the weakest of the series, even though it was my favorite of C.S. Lewis’ original novels. The book’s episodic nature didn’t bother me on the page; the format was fun to read, with new adventures on every island during the characters’ voyage. However, on film the plot seemed a little too disjointed, and the plot device the film makers added to link the film’s events together fell a bit flat.

That’s why I’m really glad director Francis Lawrence was brave enough to make some changes with his adaptation of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” I enjoyed the book version, but I felt the first half of the book focused too much on the Katniss-Peeta-Gale love triangle, which is one of the weaker elements of the series. In the book, the brewing revolution in Panem remains more in the background.

I liked that Lawrence was willing to play around with the format: he brings the revolution to the foreground and shifts the love triangle to the background. He turns the first half of the movie into a taut political thriller, and this bumped the movie from “good” to “great” for me. I’ll even venture to say I think that as a finished product, the movie is actually better than the book (don’t hate me!) 😉

For me, the most important part of a book-to-movie adaptation is getting the characters right and capturing the overall tone and feeling of the book, even if some of the details and plot points have to be changed along the way. For example, Steven Moffat made some very dramatic changes in his modernized version of “Sherlock Holmes” with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, but the characters felt authentic, and the adaptation captured the quick-witted spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original writings. I think a film maker’s respect for the original source material, even if they decide to change it, makes a difference, as well.

So, what do you think? Are fans sometimes too tough on book-to-movie adaptations? Or do you think Hollywood alters too much of the original content when it turns books into movies?

Movie review: ‘Catching Fire’ a bigger, better sequel with a timely message

709262 KS_New_gameslede“There are no winners, only survivors.”

Those haunting words, spoken by a former “Hunger Games” victor, sum up the sobering truth about the games. In a post-apocalyptic North American society, teenagers — known as “tributes” — are forced to fight in a yearly televised death match as punishment for the society’s failed rebellion years ago. The last tribute standing has to pay a high price for his or her victory: a lifetime of lingering trauma, guilt and isolation.

That’s the kind of fallout Katniss Everdeen is facing. In the first “Hunger Games” movie, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and the other tribute from her district, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), managed to beat the system by pretending to be “star-crossed lovers” and convincing the gamemakers to change the rules and allow them to be named joint victors. However, their act of defiance has begun to fan the flames of rebellion in the districts of Panem, and Panem’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland) is beginning to fear the power Katniss has as a symbol. The Hunger Games may be over, but her life is still very much in danger.

Although I loved the first movie based on the “Hunger Games” book series by Suzanne Collins, the sequel, “Catching Fire,” is even better, managing to be both more epic and more personal. This time around, the special effects are bigger, the scope is larger, and the stakes are higher. It’s a blockbuster that works as entertainment and a political statement.

Film Review The Hunger Games Catching Fire“Catching Fire” opens with Katniss struggling to pick up the pieces of her life after winning the Hunger Games. A “victory tour” meant to celebrate her and Peeta’s win only turns her into more of a revolutionary symbol. So, President Snow changes the rules of the Hunger Games again — for the next games, the competitors will be selected from the pool of existing victors, even though these victors were promised they’d be immune from future “reapings.” Katniss and Peeta will have to compete again, but this time they’ll be fighting hardened warriors, not fellow teenagers. Katniss must be even more careful, as Snow has made it very clear that if she doesn’t cooperate, he will harm her family and her best friend/maybe more-than-a-friend back home, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth).

Although the first third of the film perhaps could have been tightened up just a tad, the political drama and slow-burn build-up is just as gripping as the battles that take place during the “all-star” Hunger Games. While the brewing revolution in the districts was more in the background in the novel, director Francis Lawrence (taking over from Gary Ross) wisely brings it more to the forefront. He forces us to examine how close our own culture mirrors the world depicted in “Catching Fire”: are we more like the oppressed districts or the oblivious citizens of the “Capitol,” where our celebrity-obsessed, entertainment-centered culture blinds us to the real problems around us?

Like the first film, the sequel has a fine cast of supporting actors, including a few new faces. Woody Harrelson plays Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss and Peeta’s inebriated mentor who’s a more skilled strategist than he first appears. Sutherland brings a sense of elegant, terrifying menace to his role as President Snow, and the script gives Elizabeth Banks a chance to add more nuance to her character Effie Trinket, Katniss and Peeta’s ditzy fashion-plate handler. Philip Seymour Hoffman also joins the cast as Plutarch Heavensbee, the mysterious new head gamemaker who’s trying to play Snow’s game and also maybe a game of his own.

However, the heart and soul of the film is, once again, Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. Lawrence truly is “a girl on fire,” as her character is labeled in the film. Lawrence and the film makers don’t try to smooth out the character’s rough edges. Katniss is tough, has poor people skills, and is emotionally distant. And yet, she also has a powerful sense of inner strength, and she’s a stubborn survivor in the face of impossible odds. Lawrence feels authentic and utterly believable in the role. As Katniss has to pretend to be a giddy, love-struck victor, we never lose sight of the sense of pain haunting her eyes.

“Catching Fire” should please fans of the book series but also offers plenty for general audiences, as well. As soon as I walked out of the theater, I wanted to go and watch it again. This film has easily earned a place near the top of my “best of 2013” list. 🙂

 

My most anticipated movies of 2013

cumber-batch-star-trek-into-darkness2012 is going to be a tough year for Hollywood to top. The year’s most anticipated movies — such as “The Hunger Games,” “The Hobbit” and the new Bond movie, “Skyfall” — were, for the most part, relatively well received by fans and also performed quite well at the box office. However, there are quite a few films slated for release in 2013 that look promising, as well, including several sequels to popular franchises.

While there are quite a few films I’m looking forward to this year, here are the top five I’m most excited about:

5. “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” (release date Nov. 22)

catching fireOf Suzanne Collins’ three “Hunger Games” novels, the first one is my favorite. It’s a tightly-written, harrowing thriller that’s impossible to put down once you start reading it. Although I enjoyed the other two books in the series, “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay,” I have slightly more mixed feelings about them. Still, I think the second book, “Catching Fire,” definitely has cinematic potential, and I’m looking forward to the film version this fall.

In “Catching Fire,” Katniss and Peeta are forced to return to the arena to fight for their lives in an all-star version of the “Hunger Games,” where past winners are forced to battle each other. I’m curious to see how the film makers go about adapting the book. The first part of the book had a few weaknesses (I think Collins perhaps spent a bit too much time focusing on the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle), but the book picks up speed as Katniss and Peeta prepare for their second round of the Hunger Games.

I’m also excited to see the addition of Finnick Odair, a past Hunger Games winner, to the story. Finnick is one of those characters it’s easy to write off at first as a stereotype, but throughout the story, you learn he’s not quite as shallow and self-centered as he first appears.

4. “Man of Steel” (release date June 14)

man of steelThere’s quite a bit of pressure riding on this summer’s Superman reboot, “Man of Steel.” For starters, it’s probably Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ best shot at developing a new superhero film franchise, after the conclusion of its only currently successful superhero franchise, Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, this past summer. Warner Bros. and DC Comics also desperately need “Man of Steel” to be successful if they want to have a shot at creating a Justice League mash-up film.

“Man of Steel” has, I think, the potential to be the surprise hit of the summer. I was impressed with the most recently released trailer; Christopher Nolan is producing the film, and you can see hints of his trademark artistic style in the trailer’s footage. A darker, grittier tone could help to breathe new life into the Superman franchise, à la “Batman Begins.” This might also be a good tone for the proposed Justice League movie to take and could help the film to find its own unique voice rather than appearing to be an “Avengers” copycat.

3. “Iron Man 3” (release date May 3)

iron man 3While I’ve enjoyed all of Marvel’s individual superhero films leading up to “The Avengers,” Iron Man has always been my favorite character from the Avengers team. I’m excited to see Robert Downey Jr. take on the role again in “Iron Man 3,” and to see how Marvel handles the first of its individual superhero films released after the success of last summer’s “The Avengers.”

I like the more serious, slightly darker tone the film appears to be taking. Iron Man is the most brashly self-confident member of the Avengers team, but like any person, he still has his weaknesses, and this film seems to be pushing him to his limit. He’ll have to face down a new villain, The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), and it will be interesting to see how Tony Stark copes with life after the Avengers.

However, I hope the film isn’t too dark, and that they still include plenty of Tony Stark’s famously snarky wit, which is part of what makes the Iron Man character so much fun to watch. I’m also looking forward to this year’s other Marvel stand-alone film, “Thor: The Dark World” (Nov. 8).

2. “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (release date Dec. 13)

smaugAlthough originally I was a little concerned about Peter Jackson’s decision to split “The Hobbit” into three parts rather than two, I’m feeling much better about it after seeing the first part, “An Unexpected Journey.” I thoroughly enjoyed the first film and thought it was a fun, rousing adventure, and I’m curious to see what Jackson plans to do with the final two films.

I suspect the second film, “The Desolation of Smaug,” will include one of the book’s main action set pieces, a battle with giant spiders in the forest of Mirkwood, as well as the escape from the dungeons of the Wood-elves. I’m guessing Peter Jackson will either end the story right before or right after Bilbo sneaks into the lair of the dragon Smaug.

Since Peter Jackson is expanding the series into a trilogy, I’m hoping he’ll have more time to delve into the backstory of the “Necromancer,” the character who eventually becomes the all-seeing eye of Sauron. Though we didn’t catch a glimpse of him in “An Unexpected Journey,” Benedict Cumberbatch is credited for the role, and I’m very curious to see what the “Sherlock” star might do with the character.

1. “Star Trek: Into Darkness” (release date May 17)

into darknessJ.J. Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” film is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I’ve been eagerly (and yes, somewhat impatiently) 😉 waiting for this sequel. I loved Abrams’ first “Trek” film. He took some huge risks with his origin story: recasting new actors as some of science fiction’s best loved characters, altering “Star Trek” canon, and portraying characters we thought we knew in a different way. But those risks paid off, and the result was both a love letter to the classic science fiction series and a reboot that breathed some much-needed life into the franchise.

So far, Abrams has been very tight-lipped about the plot of the sequel, and the trailer teases more than it reveals. We know Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing the film’s villain, but we don’t know what villain it will be (the trailer doesn’t confirm the rumors Cumberbatch will be playing Khan, but it doesn’t disprove those rumors, either). Whatever Abrams has planned, I think it will be worth the wait.

So, what films are you most looking forward to in 2013?

Catching fire: Thoughts on themes in the ‘Hunger Games’

I finally finished reading “The Hunger Games” series this weekend, and what a ride it was. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a series of books that excited me as much as this one has, and I think it deserves the hype it’s been getting. The narrative pulls you in right from the first several chapters, and once I started the series, I couldn’t put it down.

The three-book young adult series has clearly resonated with readers: “The Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire” and “Mockingjay” all have become bestsellers, and the film based on the first novel in the series has taken in more than $350 million in the United States and has broken box office records.

Yet what exactly is it about the Hunger Games that has attracted this much interest, and why have people seemed to find the books so relevant?

Although the books are thought-provoking and smartly written, they aren’t always easy to read. The narrative is rather dark and gritty at times, even for adult readers. The story takes place in a civilization called Panem, a post-apocalyptic society in North America that’s divided into 13 districts. Years ago, the districts of Panem tried to rebel against the oppressive government but were brutally crushed (the 13th district was even obliterated). As punishment for the rebellion, the government started the “Hunger Games,” a televised gladiator-style competition where teenagers are forced to fight to the death.

The names of all 12- to 18-year-olds are placed in a lottery, and each year, two names are drawn from each district (one boy and one girl) to compete as “tributes” in the Hunger Games. The tributes are trained and then placed in an arena with weapons and a limited number of supplies. The last one standing wins.

It’s a rather disturbing and brutal concept, and while author Suzanne Collins doesn’t cheapen the violence and write just for shock value, she doesn’t try to whitewash the content, either. That’s why it’s all the more sickening to watch how the citizens who live in Panem’s prosperous “Capitol” are sheltered from the violence and poverty plaguing the Districts, turning a blind eye to the suffering.

Through her novels, Collins forces her readers to take a hard look at several serious topics, such as politics, social injustice and entertainment, and her narrative serves as a sort of warning about what could happen to our culture in the future if we aren’t vigilant.

Some of the major themes in “The Hunger Games” include poverty, and how it’s easy to forget the “have-nots” when all our own needs are cared for; government control, and the question of how much freedom we’re willing to sacrifice in order to feel secure; and the idea of civic duty, and the responsibility we have to stand up for injustice we see occurring in our communities.

There’s probably a critique on our culture’s obsession with reality television to be found within the pages of Collins’ series, as well. Although there’s nothing on television as brutal or violent as the horrific “Hunger Games,” a lot of reality shows do encourage contestants to do whatever they can to get ahead, no matter who they have to push out of their way (it could be argued that the hit series “Survivor” is a watered-down version of the Hunger Games, the only difference being that contestants don’t actually try to kill each other).

Reality talent competitions frequently humiliate contestants who can’t sing, dance, etc., as well as they think they can. We as the audience laugh at the contestants’ misfortunes, even though sometimes the coverage may boarder on the insensitive or even cruel. Does this make us as bad as the people of Panem’s Capitol? Or is Collins’ point a little subtler? The people at the Capitol are so far removed from the brutality of the Hunger Games and the struggles of the Districts that maybe they cease to view the games as reality — it’s just slickly-produced entertainment. That’s almost the way we view reality television; we consume so much entertainment that what we watch starts to lose its impact, and the line between what’s real and what’s manufactured (which, truthfully, is probably most of “reality” television) becomes blurred.

The book includes plenty of political food for thought, as well. Cinema365, a blog I follow on WordPress.com, brings up a good point in that the Hunger Games could be used as a metaphor by both sides of the political spectrum. Activist groups like the Tea Party might identify with the Districts of Panem, viewing Panem’s controlling Capitol as a symbol of the United States’ slow movement towards more government oversight and socialism. Conversely, the “Occupy” protesters might also identify with the repressed Districts, and they might see the Capitol as a symbol for the privileged “1 percent” who are living the good life while the rest of the “99 percent” struggle to get by. Or, one could even make the argument the Capitol is a symbol of the United States itself; is our nation too comfortable, content to take our freedom and prosperity for granted, while people living in third world countries are suffering from poverty, violence and starvation? It’s definitely a question we should consider.

I don’t think Collins is trying to argue for one side or the other (especially since she started her series before the Tea Party and Occupy movements began to gain in popularity). I also don’t think she wants to let us off that easily by taking a particular stance. “The Hunger Games” is intended to make us stop and think, and I believe that’s exactly what these novels have done for our culture. The series is definitely worth a read, and I hope it continues encouraging people to take a closer look at tough topics and make sure we don’t become a “Panem” further down the road.

Movie review: ‘The Hunger Games’

I’m pretty sure by now, I’m one of the last people on the planet to read “The Hunger Games” novel. 😉 However, I finally picked up a copy last week, and since then, I haven’t been able to stop reading it. It’s a smartly-written, fast-paced and thought-provoking novel, and the good news for fans is, the film version is just as powerful.

The story takes place in a civilization called Panem, a post-apocalyptic society in North America that’s divided into 13 districts. Years ago, the districts of Panem tried to rebel against the oppressive government but were brutally crushed (the 13th district was even obliterated). As punishment for the rebellion, the government started the “Hunger Games,” a televised gladiator-style competition where teenagers are forced to fight to the death.

The names of all 12- to 18-year-olds are placed in a lottery, and each year, two names are drawn from each district (one boy and one girl) to compete as “tributes” in the Hunger Games. The tributes are trained and then placed in an arena with weapons and a limited number of supplies. The last one standing wins.

It’s a rather horrific and brutal concept, and at times, “The Hunger Games” isn’t an easy film to watch (or an easy book to read). So what makes the story so compelling, and why has it attracted so many fans? The answer lies with the story’s main character, Katniss Everdeen.

Katniss is a tough, smart 16-year-old from one of the poorest districts in Panem, who’s had to fight for survival her whole life. When her 12-year-old sister Prim’s name is drawn in the Hunger Games lottery, she volunteers to go in her place. It’s this act of selfless love and devotion that gives the story its humanity.

In the film version, Katniss is embodied perfectly by young actress Jennifer Lawrence, who also appeared in last summer’s “X-Men: First Class” and was nominated for an Oscar for her role in “Winter’s Bone.” Lawrence’s intense, emotional performance brings the “Girl on Fire” from the pages of Suzanne Collins’ novel to life, and we can feel her pain as she struggles to come to grips with what competing in the Hunger Games will mean. She hates the injustice of the games but realizes that in order to survive and get back to her sister, Prim, she’ll have to commit horrific acts in the arena. She also knows eventually she may be forced to fight the other tribute from her district, Peeta Mellark. He’s declared his love for her, and while she isn’t sure how she feels about him, she doesn’t want to have to take him down in the arena.

It’s a terrible choice to force teenagers to make, and as I mentioned before, the movie isn’t an easy one to watch. It’s rated PG-13 and isn’t overly gory or bloody, but that doesn’t make it any less horrific. It’s disturbing to see the teenagers fight each other while the people in Panem’s capital casually watch the televised competition as if it were nothing more than a season of “American Idol.”

However, I think “The Hunger Games” is a film people should see, and it’s definitely a conversation starter. In our post 9/11 society, we know what it’s like to live in a world where people can die suddenly and unjustly, and I think that’s why this book has really resonated with young adults. There’s several other themes in the film that emerge as food for thought, such as poverty, government control and the way a culture can sensationalize violence to the point people become desensitized to it.

The film may not be for everyone (I have some friends that really liked it and some that didn’t), but it certainly lingers with you after you watch it. I thought it was a powerful, well-made film and a faithful adaptation of the books, and it is one I’d recommend watching.