'Hunger Games' DVD a feast
Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games." (HO)
Like The Twilight Saga, which is coming to a merciful end with the final big-screen instalment in November, The Hunger Games is both a publishing and a movie phenomenon. This means each dystopian franchise has now carved out a permanent niche in pop culture history. The similarities end there.
Unlike The Twilight Saga, The Hunger Games is based on inspired, intelligent and beautifully crafted novels. Just as significantly, and not unrelated, the first Hunger Games film is savagely brilliant. This is something that was reinforced with its high-quality release this week on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download. We can only hope that the next three Hunger Games movies, which will complete the onscreen story by Nov. 20, 2015, are equal or superior.
At the very least, Jennifer Lawrence should be Oscar-nominated as best actress for 2012, although I am not sure if the voting members of the Academy have the moxie. That is because The Hunger Games appears to be a sci-fi action thriller, merely a genre piece. On a superficial level, it can be dismissed as a movie about kids killing kids. Set in a post-apocalyptic North America which is re-named Panem, the story focuses on the annual killing spree that ensues when the totalitarian government conscripts two teenagers from each of 12 districts to engage in deadly games. These "hunger games" are staged for the amusement of the rich and to terrorize the poor. They will end with only one child alive, the victor. It sounds grisly, and it is, even though director Gary Ross underplays the brutality.
But the honest truth is that The Hunger Games -- on paper and on screen -- is a sophisticated allegory and biting commentary on the politics of war, poverty and power. Katniss Everdeen, the heroine whom Lawrence plays in the movie version, is mythic in her scope, even though she is "just" a teen from the hardscrabble mining area, District 12. When the "reaping" team comes to name the district's games participants, both the setting and the appearance of the residents make this look like a 1940s Nazi concentration camp.
The world is watching. The Hunger Games generated $684 million in worldwide box office, $407 million of that in Canada and the U.S., according to Box Office Mojo. Already ranked as bestsellers, Suzanne Collins' three novels sold even more as a result of movie cross-promotions, especially in the digital format. By the time The Hunger Games was released March 23, Amazon had cited Collins as the best-selling Kindle ebook author ever. Obviously, the movie should also do well now in the digital realm.
For those who still enjoy tactile hard copies, The Hunger Games debuted Saturday on DVD and Blu-ray. If you value extras, there are separate two-disc DVD and Blu-ray sets. Extras are extensive and impressive, including a 122-minute documentary called The World is Watching: Making The Hunger Games. Writer-producer Cliff Stephenson obviously earned unfettered access to filmmaker Ross and his cast and crew. Lawrence is featured throughout. So are accolades for her.
"She's an actor!" enthuses wily veteran Donald Sutherland, who plays Panem's dictator. "She's a pure, unadulterated, please-don't-touch-her actor." Sutherland, almost like a religious chant, adds: "She was perfect, she was perfect, she was perfect."
Ross says he would not have directed The Hunger Games without Lawrence because her role is morally complex and he needed a young star with sublime talent.
"I just knew that there was no one who would come close. There was no one who had her strength, her directness, her integrity, her solidity, her bravery, her power, her nuance, her emotional depth."