‘Hunger Games’ is much talked-about, but is it good?

G.W. Clift

By A Contributor

This seems as routine as a Carmike ticket price rise. One pays $7 to see a matinee of a movie about poor people competing and in the end, despite long odds, winning some sort of contest. So what is it that makes “The Hunger Games” so special that the 1 o’clock Friday matinee was sold out and the 2 o’clock was uncomfortably full?

I can’t answer the question. The series of books on which the film is based is, I am told, popular. Lion’s Gate spent a lot of money promoting the film, but not an extraordinary amount. The movie was competently directed (by Gary Ross, who wrote “Seabiscuit,” another movie with the “Rocky” plot, and by Steven Soderbergh, who recently gave us “Haywire” and “Contagion”.

But while good direction might help a movie to be popular for a long time, it doesn’t usually make for big first-day-of-release crowds of the sort that “The Hunger Games” attracted. Nor are the star actors the reason 13-year-old girls caught rides to the twelve-plex for early showings. They don’t know who Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland are. They probably can’t identify Lenny Kravitz and Elizabeth Banks. What do they care about Woody Harrelson?

Kids may know who Josh Hutcherson is. But I suspect the audience was actually there to see Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the protagonist here and played Mystique in the most recent X-Men film. Having a teenaged girl as its central character—that’s what attracted many of the young viewers to “The Hunger Games” early showings. They went to see a movie about a character with whom they could identify. And to be part of the promised blockbuster weekend of a much-talked-about new film.

So moviegoers probably got what they wanted. But did they also see a good movie? Well, I guess its OK.

It is a long movie—two hours and fifty minutes with all the forematter. The only parts of the movie that are briskly cut are the action sequences, which don’t begin until everyone’s been in her theater seat for almost an hour and a half. Passages of the film explaining the future setting, introducing the personalities of contestants and administrators, and covering the TV show associated with the games are all long without much reason.

Here’s the concept: Every year a boy and a girl from each of twelve rural districts are picked to appear in a televised fight to the death. After some training, the kids are ejected into a forest. Producers manipulate circumstances, but the idea is that the young people will kill each other. The last one breathing wins and is sent back home.

The seventy-fourth year is different only because Peta (Hutcherson) tells an interviewer (Tucci, with billowing hair) that he has a crush on Katnip (Lawrence). I hope I’ve got those character names right. P and K represent District 12, which seems to be the Appalachians of the late 1950s. In an attempt to capitalize on the potential romance, the producers announce that both representatives from one district will be allowed to survive.

Now I think K and P fall in love during the fighting. But I’m not sure. Lawrence is not a particularly communicative actor. Does she fall in love with P, or is that just a sham to keep things going?

I had more than a few questions of that sort. Sometimes the movie doesn’t make much sense. I didn’t understand why the gray leader (Sutherland) was angry at the television producer (Wes Bentley, with a hinkey painted-on beard). I didn’t understand how one competitor knew K had earlier helped his district mate. And I didn’t understand why the public would want to watch this sort of gore on t.v.

Or why we weren’t treated to much of the gore on screen. K’s successes have almost nothing to do with her own exertions. Almost all the other contestants die off-screen. Our K is more of a Cinderella than a Rocky. But, then, girls like that Cinderella story, don’t they?

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