Accompanying eight, super-hyped-up girls, all 12 or 13, to the opening night of The Hunger Games isn’t for the faint of heart. Especially when the girls scream with glee and applaud at the brutal murders of kids their own age.
Note: Spoiler Alert!
My granddaughter, Jordan Fideler, 13, of Redondo Beach, couldn’t contain her joy when one teen was torn to pieces by ferocious hounds. “I actually cheered when Cato was thrown off the cornucopia,” she said, clapping her hands in the ecstasy of the moment. (More on characters and plot later.)
As for the four adult chaperones, we were as anxious to see the movie as the girls. None of us was overly concerned about the violence involved, something several critics described as inappropriate for young viewers.
While waiting to see the film at the Archlight Theater in El Segundo, Janeen Arrigo, who purchased all twelve tickets three months in advance, said she and her daughter, Rachel, 12, knew what to expect from the movie because they had read all three Hunger Games books. (Expect two more movies, by the way.)
“Your imagination when reading is going to be a lot worse than what you see in the movie,” said Arrigo, who lives in Hermosa Beach and anticipated that the filmed version was "going to be a lot of fun.”
Arrigo and her daughter were also the first in line when it came to seeing the Twilight movies, she said. "We're seasoned."
Toyo Harper of Redondo Beach had initial concerns, however. “I always thought [the book] was for high school age, but I’m kinda glad to see the youngsters are reading, just because they are reading,” she said.
Harper, who runs an extended daycare and is a friend of one of the girls in our group (Natalie Rau, 12), said the “strong storyline” that had kids killing kids had appalled her at first. “But you start rooting for people, and then you’re done, and you go, ‘My gosh, these are children,’” Harper said.
Tiffany Rau, Natalie’s mother, had another take on it all. “You have to think a lot about what happened before the games started, and what society and the world had become that led [to the games],” said Rau, who lives in Hermosa Beach. “It’s not so much about the kids competing in the games [as it is] what brought the world to such desolation.”
For those who don’t know the story—if there are any of you left on the planet—it’s about a post-apocalyptic world in which the Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl (Tributes) to compete in the Hunger Games—a nationally televised event. Chosen by lottery, the 24 Tributes must fight with one another until the last survivor is declared the winner.
The story revolves around Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who has volunteered to take her young sister’s place; Everdeen’s cohort from District 12, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), who’s had a crush on Everdeen for years; and Everdeen’s hunting buddy, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), who is left behind at home.
Mix in some evil Capitol villians who manipulate the games at will; add Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a drunken mentor; Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), an outlandish TV host; and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), a bizarre Capitol escort.
All manner of pitfalls await the Tributes—monster hounds, tracker jackers (genetically-altered wasps), fireballs, painful injuries, and, of course, the 24 kids out to kill each other, some having trained all their lives to do just that. (Not Katniss and Peeta, however.)
Bloody and brutal as it is at times, the packed theater loved it, the audience noisy with whooping cheers, applause, yelps of encouragement, some sniffles and sighs.
As euphoric at the conclusion of the film as they had been excited beforehand, several in our group had tears in their eyes.
Jennifer Marer, 12, of Hermosa, who thought the movie “was as good as it can get,” was devastated when Rue, one of the youngest Tributes, was slain by Clove, another Tribute—this even though Marer had read the book and knew what to expect.
“The Rue and Katniss scene was so moving; it was so sad, I cried,” Marer said about the scene where Katniss surrounds the child’s body with flowers.
While the film suffers (in my opinion) from some poor CGI effects (computer-generated images) in the Capitol crowd scenes, it maintains its hair-trigger suspense, especially when the Tributes are delivered into the Games.
Kelli Mark, 12, recalled the moment the gruesome hounds appeared, horrible creatures genetically altered by the evil Capitol crew.
“When the dogs popped out, Jordan, Natalie and I were holding hands, and we about jumped out of our seats,” Mark said, adding that Hunger Games was the only movie she had ever seen “that was exactly like the book.”
Due to the fact that all but one of the girls had read all three books, they were fanatic in their attention to detail. Natalie Rau, for example, was disappointed in the Tribute Parade, where the 24 Tributes are introduced to the TV audience.
Katniss and Peeta were described in the book as wearing splendid costumes that ignited in flames, said Rau, who has read all three books twice. “The fire looked really fake in the (movie version) Tribute Parade,” she said. “It should have been more like they described in the book, like they were glowing with fire.”
She was also disappointed in the poisonous "berry scene” in which Katniss and Peeta decide to commit suicide together rather than try to kill each other after the Capitol crew reverses a reversal which had allowed two Tributes to live instead of just one. (Maybe you have to see the movie.)
The moment "was way more dramatic in the book," Rau said. "The decision to commit suicide together is the event that triggers the rest of the books and an uprising.”
Others noted how slight changes in the movie concerning the romance between Katniss and Peeta didn't reflect the book, which had Katniss torn between Peeta and Gale at the end.
Some, like Jennifer Marer, found a bit of humor in it all. “When Rue was telling Katniss to cut down the jacker trackers, she couldn’t talk and it was really funny,” Marer said about the scene where Katniss, who is trapped in a tree with several murderous Tributes sleeping below, tries to cut down a wasp nest. “[Rue] was trying to signal her and everyone laughed.”
One effect all the girls liked was Peeta’s rock camouflage and how Katniss almost stepped on him before he reached out to grab her leg.
Jennifer Lawrence’s character of Katniss was the favorite of most, although Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta came in a close second.
Marley Kaliban, 13, of Redondo Beach, said she liked Katniss. "But I LOVE Peeta!" she exclaimed. Kaliban was most excited to see Katniss' training, which didn't disappoint, especially when Katniss fires an arrow through an apple in a roast pig's mouth—and nearly decapitates one of her Capitol captors.
Jordan Fideler, who “cried four times while reading the book ... staying up until who knows when,” said she cried only once in the movie. But, she added, "I liked it so much, it was amazing."
Asked if she intends to read any of the books a second time, she said, “It depends on how long it takes for Catching Fire (the movie) to come out.”
Until then, she'll wait impatiently until The Hunger Games DVD arrives on the market. “I’ll probably memorize all the lines like I did for Twilight.”