A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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What's the story?
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?
How does the movie compare to the book? What are the main differences? Is it different to see violence rather than to read about it?
- In theaters: March 23, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: August 18, 2012
- Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson
- Director: Gary Ross
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Book Characters, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Self-control
- Run time: 142 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: intense violent thematic material and disturbing images - all involving teens
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