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The Hunger Games
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
Stands out for
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that although the bestselling Hunger Games books are enormously popular with tweens, there's a clear distinction between reading about violence and seeing it portrayed on screen in The Hunger Games. Developmentally, the 10- to 12-year-olds who've read the book may find the movie's visceral, sometimes bloody teen-on-teen violence upsetting -- especially the brutal scene that opens the Games, in which several teens are slaughtered by their fellow contestants. Even young teens need to be mature enough to deal with the 20+ deaths in The Hunger Games; characters are viciously dispatched with various weapons -- including spears, arrows, and swords -- as well as by having their necks broken, their skulls cracked, and their bodies ravaged by carnivorous and poisonous creatures. Despite the violence (which is, overall, less graphic than the novel's descriptions but is still very intense), the movie explores thought-provoking themes about reality television, totalitarian government, and screen violence as entertainment. And Katniss, the main character, is a strong heroine who's resourceful, selfless, and a true survivor. Her mentor, Haymitch, is initially depicted as a cynical drunk, but he ultimately proves to be a valuable ally.
To start, this movie is one of the best I have ever seen. I LOVE the books, and this is probably one of the best book to movie adaptations I've seen in a long time. But before you go letting your 9 year old watch it, let's go over the story, as well as the pros and cons.
16 year old Katniss Everdeen lives in a dystopian world. The shining Capitol is surrounded by 12 districts. 74 years ago, the districts were defeated in a war against the Capitol, and as punishment for the uprising, they must send a girl and a boy, between the ages of 12 and 18, to participate as tributes in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Katniss regards it as a death sentence when she takes her sister's place in the games. In order to survive, she must choose between her own survival and humanity, life against love. And through it all, what is reality, and what is the game?
Positive massages:4/5, Many of the haters of this movie are disturbed at the teens killing teens aspect of the story, but I think that is the point. This movie shows us the horrific violence that ensues when you dehumanize people. The movie also shows what happens when you allow a totalitarian government to take control. In addition, this movie also promotes courage, loyalty, selflessness, and friendship.
Positive role models:3/5, Katniss is a resourceful heroin who selflessly volunteers for her beloved sister, Prim. Throughout the whole movie, Katniss is courageous and selfless. Peeta, a fellow tribute, is a loyal friend to Katniss.
Violence:3/5, The movie starts off slow. You don't see any blood until Katniss is aboard a train, on her way to the Capitol. In this scene, she is watching a replay from a previous Hunger Games, and it shows a boy bashing another tribute's head with a brick, and you catch a glimpse of the blood-soaked brick, as well as the dead tribute, who is also covered in blood. There is pretty much no more violence until the Games begin, (although there are a couple scenes in the training center that shows tributes throwing knives/spears at dummys.) But once the Games begin, the blood level picks up. By far, the most violent scene is when the Games first start, and the tributes are all killing each other. Blood spurts from open wounds, impact, blood-covered weapons, and in the aftermath, you see dead bodies littered around the space. However, the camera moves so fast during the fighting that you can't see much, just some flashes here and there. A little bit later, there is a scene with fire, and you see some pretty realistic burn wounds on someone's leg. One character is stung to death by mutant wasps, and you catch a prolonged glimpse of her distorted body, (this for me was the most disturbing scene.) There is an explosion some time later, and a tribute breaks another tribute's neck. A spear impales someone's stomach, you see a bloody leg wound, one tribute slams another against a metal object, killing her, and lastly, a last tribute is attacked and killed by mutant dogs. This being said, while the violence is somewhat bloody, it is not gory, it is not prolonged or tortuous, and not all that graphic.
Drinking/drugs/smoking:2/5, One character, who is haunted by his violent past is addicted to alcohol, but there is nothing else.
Swearing:1/5, A few uses of hell and damn.
Sexy stuff:1/5, Peeta admits he had a crush on Katniss since they were kids, the two kiss once.
To sum it all up, it is one of my all-time FAVORITES! The story is intriguing and well thought out, the violence is fairly bloody but not overly gory, swearing and sexy stuff are kept to a minimum, and the alcoholic character sobers as the movie goes on. There are great messages and lessons we can learn from this movie. I think it is appropriate for nearly all teens, but it's an iffy choice for anyone under 13 years old.
In a distant post-apocalyptic future, North America -- now known as Panem -- is composed of 12 districts that are controlled by the totalitarian Capitol, and every year, one boy and one girl from each of the districts are randomly selected to compete in THE HUNGER GAMES, a televised battle to the death for the Capitol's amusement ... and as a brutal reminder of the districts' failed rebellion. When 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen's (Jennifer Lawrence) younger sister is chosen as one of District 12's representatives, she volunteers to be the tribute in her sister's place. Aided by half-drunk former winner Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), personal stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), and fellow tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss embarks on an unimaginable journey to emerge as the Games' sole victor, even though that means 23 others will have to die.
Is It Any Good?
Director Gary Ross has faithfully, lovingly adapted the first installment of Suzanne Collins' riveting dystopian trilogy. As the compelling Katniss, Lawrence (an Oscar nominee for the similarly themed drama Winter's Bone) completely brings "The Girl on Fire" to life. She anchors the movie with her heartfelt portrayal of a fierce and selfless young woman who knows how to survive and how to save the people she loves. And Hutcherson is fantastic as the thoughtful and protective Peeta. (Fans expecting high romance should know there are several tender moments, but the love story takes a rightful back seat to Katniss' extraordinary tale.)
The supporting characters are all equally up to the task of realizing Collins' vision. Stanley Tucci is particularly wonderful as scene-stealing Caesar Flickerman, a smarmy TV personality who hosts the Games and interviews all of the competitors. Elizabeth Banks is hilarious as Effie Trinket, the Capitol's liaison to District 12, and Harrelson is a slightly more understated but just as clever version of perpetually drunk Haymitch. Everyone -- whether it's Donald Sutherland in a few powerful scenes as Panem's menacing President Snow; newcomer Amandla Stenberg as Katniss' young ally, Rue; or the various other young tributes who die one by one -- gives their all to this captivating commentary on government, entertainment, and self-identity. The Hunger Games is violent, but in a heartbreaking way that will both make audiences think and count the days until Catching Fire is in theaters.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how the "last man standing" premise (minus the actual killing, of course) in The Hunger Games compares to current reality shows. Which shows pit people against each other? Why is it so much fun to watch the alliances and the voting off and the cattiness of these programs? How far do you think shows like this could go?
Use the movie's depiction of Panem -- particularly the relationship between the Capitol and the 12 districts -- to discuss how much kids understand about totalitarian governments and dictatorships. What does President Snow mean when he says he doesn't root for "underdogs"? Or that too much hope is a dangerous thing? Why are there more bleak portrayals of the distant future than optimistic ones? What are some other books and movies that feature a postapocalyptic or post-war future?
How does Katniss compare to other female protagonists in young adult books and movies? What are her views on love, marriage, and kids, and how are they tied to the unimaginably dire circumstances she endures?