Review: 'The Hunger Games' is violent, but also careful and compelling

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The wait is finally over for the many fans of the book “The Hunger Games.” The film adaptation of the Suzanne Collins novel is opening in theaters with “Harry Potter”- and “Twilight”-like fanfare. Midnight showings have been sold out for days and the hype machine is working at full throttle.

The story is well known for those who have read the book. If you haven’t, then you will want to know that “The Hunger Games” is set in a futuristic North America that is comprised of the Capitol and 12 districts. There were 13 districts, but an uprising by the districts was put down by the Capitol when the 13th district was destroyed.

The victory resulted in a treaty that created a yearly event where each district provides a boy and a girl "tribute." These teenagers would be placed in an arena and fight to the death, with only one being crowned the victor. These Hunger Games serve as a reminder of the treason of the districts and the generosity of the Capitol, as the victor is showered with luxury for the rest of their lives.

Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence in the film) is 16 and must participate in the selection of tributes for District 12. At the ceremony her 12-year-old sister, Prim (Willow Shields), is selected. Katniss knows her sister won’t last one minute in the Games, so she volunteers to take Prim’s place. The boy selected this year is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who is the son of the local baker and has helped Katniss in the past.

The two are ushered off to the Capitol and lavished with every luxury there is to offer. Their team helps them to make an impression during public events. This can gain them sponsors, who have the opportunity to provide gifts that could help them survive.

To put any worries to rest, there is no need to read the book to understand this film. In fact, not having read the book may help a lot in this case. Director Gary Ross had an impossible task with this adaptation — to make a film that tells the whole story and keep it entertaining. The problem is, there is too much in the book to keep everything in the film. Collins wrote a fantastic book, but those who have read it may be disappointed by some of the missing pieces in the film, as well as some of the additions.

Another dynamic weighing on this film is the fact that there are sequels already in the works based on this story. The trilogy of books has been scheduled to be made into four films. The filmmakers needed to set up the next films during this first one, so there are changes from the book's story.

The end result is, if you have not read the book you won’t notice any changes. If you have read the book, you may be disappointed.

Some have played up the love story in this film, but there is not much magic on the screen between Katniss and either Peeta or Gale. The story in this film moves too fast to allow any sort of love to blossom on the screen. It seems that the team on this film tried to do too much and ended up with not enough.

One thing that is constant in both the film and the book is the violence, which is central to the story. In the film you know there is a violent act occurring, but you don’t clearly see the deed happen. Instead, you see the result of the act. There is much blood in the film and many injuries. The nudity in this film amounts to Katniss bathing in a quick, out-of-focus scene. There is drinking in the film and some language.

There will be people who enjoy this film, mostly those who have not read the book or who may have read it a while ago. If you are an avid fan and you are looking to see the book on screen, the odds are not in your favor.

Shawn O'Neill is the Family Man Movie Reviewer on BYU Radio. His reviews can be heard on BYURadio.org and on SiriusXM Channel 143.