Guest post by Todd Pearage
Editor’s note: Todd is a movie buff who serves in youth ministry in Dayton, Ohio. He’s also a longtime YLO member and stalwart member of our “Write Group” — the core team of writers who help us produce over 120 Bible studies every year. Todd offered to share his thoughts after seeing The Hunger Games this weekend. You’re welcome to join in the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments.
Will The Hunger Games be one of the biggest movie franchises of all time? The odds may be ever in its favor.
Okay, first things first: I have not read the books. But my kids (Brianna 14 and Caleb 10) have read all three and absolutely loved them. So they were more than excited when my wife and I decided to take them to the midnight showing. I didn’t even have to ask what they thought of the movie. Their reactions throughout the 2 ½ hours convinced me that this movie has to please its massive fan base. And when the credits finally rolled, they asked me what I thought.
As we arrived at the theater around 11:00 on Thursday night, I was expecting ridiculous lines, a bazillion teens and preteens running around and all out chaos. And there were a ton of teenagers (many of them wearing Hunger Games t-shirts, but the theater was clearly prepared for the madness. They had a “training area” set up were kids could play games and win prizes, they had plenty of staff and they even opened the theater around 10:30pm which meant no lines. We bought some popcorn, walked right in and found great seats. The night was off to a great start.
The cast of both kids and adults was excellent. I’m not a huge Woody Harrelson fan, but I loved him in this role. At first he is a trashy drunk, but turns into a caring, compassionate mentor. And Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman is hilarious. But what makes this film so popular with teens and tweens is the cast of younger actors and I was very impressed with their performances, especially Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. She is so believable as a teenager who has grown up in this dark world. She is strong and mature beyond her years and at the same time she is a child and insecure. Is it any wonder that teenagers everywhere are resonating with her?
As far as the story goes, if you are unfamiliar with The Hunger Games, it is a dark look into the not so distant future. Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which “Tributes” must fight with one another until one survivor remains. Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). If she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
It is a realistic and frightening picture of what our future could be. But it’s not the first story or movie that has painted this picture. Films like The Running Man, Condemned (which no one saw) and Death Race all share the basic plot. Now before you jump down my throat, I know these characters are kids who are victims and not hardened criminals on death row. But like Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” There is also one “small” fact to consider … the generation in love with The Hunger Games has never even heard of The Running Man. So I’m ok with that.
Director Gary Ross does a wonderful job of bringing the words on the pages of author Suzanne Collins to the screen. The film is visually amazing. Whether you are in the depressed District 12 or the over-the-top extravagance of Capitol City or the forest of the arena, I felt like I was right there with them. If I could have asked the director to make one change it would have been to cut down on the shaky, handheld camera shots during the fight scenes. It was so distracting and difficult to watch, but I completely understand why they did it. This is an R-rated film wrapped in PG-13 packaging. The plot is dark, the imagery is disturbing and the action is intense. And one way to make a PG-13 fight scene look more intense is to shake the camera. If you take out the shaky shots, you either have vanilla fight scenes or they amp up the blood and violence and you have an R-rated film. I’m glad they kept it a PG-13 rating, but skipped the gore.
There is one other component of this movie that bothered me a little. At its core, it is an “anti-violence in the media” message that is told in an overwhelmingly violent movie. In a recent interview author Collins said she “was lying in bed channel-surfing between reality TV and coverage of the Iraq War. She said: “Those two things kind of fused together. Sort of a combination of young people being killed and the nation watching it on TV.”
So despite those two “flaws”, this is still a very entertaining movie that takes on the big issues like war, power, sacrifice, personal ethics, the class system, and reality TV. And at $155 million and counting (as of March 26), The Hunger Games is a bonafide blockbuster. I’d go see it again and based on my kids’ reaction, the blu-ray will find its way into my movie library.
What parents and youth leaders need to know: There is little to no profanity and no sexual images or nudity. The Hunger Games is rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images — all involving teens. Some of the more disturbing images are a video of a teen beating another teen to death using a brick (we see the beaten teen lying motionless and we see the brick shiny with blood). A girl gets speared, and another teenager gets shot with an arrow in the chest. A young man kills a teen boy by twisting his neck with his bare hands (we see the boy collapse to the ground). Again these images are more disturbing than gory, but either way, this movie is not for younger viewers.
The Hunger Games
Rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images – all involving teens.
Directed by Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit)
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks