Future Classic Movies: The Hunger Games

Guest blogger Stephen Reginald writes:

The Hunger Games was one of the most anticipated film releases of 2012. Based on the young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, it is the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old girl coming to grips with life, love, and survival in the country of Panem, a post-apocalyptic world that once comprised the countries of North America. The Hunger Games is a modern film in almost every sense of the word, except one. Rather than focus wholly on action and special effects—and it has both aplenty—the film is rather old-fashioned in it’s narrative style and in its character development.

Character is king (or queen)

The film spends time acquainting us with Katniss. She lives in District 12, one of a dozen districts that surround the Capitol of Panem.We discover that her father died in an accident in the district and that her mother never fully recovered from that event. Katniss is, in many respects, the head of the family, caring for her mother and younger sister, “Prim” Primrose. A sharpshooter with a bow and arrow, Katniss hunts game with childhood friend and fellow District 12 resident Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Director Gary Ross, uses flashbacks—a classic Hollywood device—to show us that Katniss is motivated by a strong sense of love and responsibility. She is very tender with sister Prim, comforting her in the days leading up to the reaping and tough with her mother when Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place in the Hunger Games.

Realistic romance

There is romance in The Hunger Games, but it isn’t sappy or trite. Collins’s heroine is a complex one and the film explores Katniss’s desire for a relationship mixed with her fear of what that means in Panem. Can she really experience love and happiness in a country that sacrifices its children for sport and subjugation? Are her feelings for best friend Gale romantic love or something else? Can she give herself to Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a boy she thinks is morally superior and too good for her? All the above dilemmas are typical in literally hundreds of movies, but The Hunger Games treats them seriously, refusing to dissolve into sentimentality. The violence, although realistic and graphic, isn’t gratuitous. It doesn’t detract from the overall narrative, but instead helps advance it. The film has some razzle-dazzle special effects, but again they support rather than overwhelm the story.

Golden Age storytelling

The Hunger Games benefits from all the technological wonders of 21st-century filmmaking, but what makes it hold up is its emphasis on the story. It has a beginning, a middle, and end and has more in common with classical cinema from Hollywood’s Golden Age—how about a strong female heroine, for one—than its contemporaries. Many of today’s films rely on quick-edits, graphic violence, and special effects, passing them off as good storytelling. To be fair, The Hunger Games uses all of the above techniques, but as already stated, they advance the narrative instead of obscurring it.

Stronger heroine

The Hunger Games is a 21st-century film, no doubt about it. What makes it a modern classic in my eyes is its focus on story and characterization over special effects and showy techniques. Featuring a heroine that is strong and multifaceted, the film reminds us of a time when great roles for women were the norm, not the exception.

Whether or not The Hunger Games stands as a classic 20-30 years from now is anyone’s guess, but I’m casting my ballot today.

Stephen Reginald is a freelance writer, editor, and consultant. A long-time amateur student of film, Reginald was the original host for “Meet Me at the Movies,” a monthly classic movie event held in his South Loop Chicago neighborhood. Reginald also teaches adult education classes at Facets Film School in Chicago. For more information, visit Classic Movie Man and South Loop Connection.

  • Blair Kramer

    I realize that THE HUNGER GAMES is well acted,  but I seriously doubt that it will become a “classic.’  You see,  films that present a future dystopia generally prove laughable in very short order.  Pessimists may well take such scenarios seriously,  but reality is very different.  Life slowly but surely continues to improve.  THE HUNGER GAMES is a very good thriller,  but it certainly doesn’t carry any type of deep meaning for society.

  • Psychoajr

    Not a classic. Found it rather slow and boring. The plot was also most troublesome. Government forces kids to murder.

  • Stephen Reginald

    Blair, thanks for the comment, but I have to disagree with you. When I watch the original “Planet of the Apes,” I don’t find it laughable. I think it has held up rather well and is certainly considered a classic. I think “The Hunger Games” stands a chance to be as well remembered. Life may “continue to improve” as you state, but there is still human nature that hasn’t changed. I think “The Hunger Games” presents this fairly well. Again, thanks for the comments. Maybe in 20 years we’ll revisit “The Hunger Games” and see where it stands among science fiction/action films.

    • Blair Kramer

      Hmmm…  I agree that the original “Planet Of The Apes” is still a good film in many respects,  but what about the way it ends?  The Soviet Union is no more.  I doubt that we will engage in a nuclear war with red China. Are you afraid of a nuclear exchange with Iran?  Pakistan?  Basically,  we didn’t “blow it up” and, apparently,  we’re not going to.  This means that the human race won’t be supplanted by highly evolved simeons!  After all is said and done,  the mid 60’s version of  “The Planet Of The Apes” is a film of its time.  Fortunately, that time is past.  It was a reflection of our social turmoil,  general fear, and collective conviction that we will ultimately destroy ourselves. Therefore,  I stand by my statement about films that present a dystopian society.  They are certainly wrong and therefore,  downright laughable.  In many respects, “The Planet Of the Apes” IS actually quite funny nowadays ( and I don’t mean the make-up!).  And I have no doubt that “The Hunger Games” will eventually suffer the same fate.

      • Steve in Sacramento

        Hi Blair, I’m going to weigh in, and on Stephen’s “side.”  I think it’s arguable AT BEST that “life slowly but surely continues to improve.”  Do you think the world as a whole is really better off than it was in 1968 (Planet of the Apes), for instance?  Certainly in a lot of ways, and for many people, it is, but in a lot of other ways, and for a lot of other people, it isn’t necessarily.  Your glass certainly sounds half-full to me; I wish I could be so positive!  And I don’t think the specifics of nuclear armageddon (which certainly COULD still happen at some point – who knows how things will develop?) negate the basic dystopian vision of a movie like “Planet of the Apes”:  certainly we could talk about environmental issues (global warming, overpopulation, etc.), corporate/political raider-ship, or any number of less contemporary events (the Inquisition, the Holocaust, to name just a few extremely obvious and broad examples) to support the need for dystopian storytelling to continue to be present.  Therefore, I hardly think the specifics of “Planet of the Apes” make it laughable, since humanity’s possibility/penchant for destruction is more or less a universal and timeless impulse, and one to be constantly guarded against (in part, through the “warnings” or “rehearsals” of dystopian storytelling).  To make an analogy, you wouldn’t judge “Romeo and Juliet” as “laughable” just because most young women don’t have personal nurses, would you?  I’m not being sarcastic, I just think you’re focusing on specifics a little – even quite a bit – too much.   

        • Steve in Sacramento

          Also, I generally don’t relate to the ‘”dated” complaint.  I find that I actually like many movies precisely BECAUSE they are “dated” (well, they also have to be good movies).  I mean, you can watch a movie like, say, “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945) and call it “dated” – or be fascinated by the early (and quite glorious) use of Technicolor.  I think I thought of that movie in particular because it’s NOT necessarily even a great movie (the story and acting are only so-so, for instance, as I remember), but it’s fascinating (to me) to watch a movie that was clearly experimenting with the use of color photography.  I imagine a lot of people (especially young people) wouldn’t think twice about the movie, since on some level today’s color cinematography is so much better, but the fact remains that the color cinematography of a movie like “Leave Her to Heaven” looks DIFFERENT from just about anything today – and that, to me, is INTERESTING, not merely “dated.”  I’m also a history buff, so I find many older films fascinating precisely because they reflect different attitudes, assumptions, styles and techniques, etc.  I think the term “dated” IS certainly appropriate for some movies, especially for the vast number of run-of-the-mill or less distinguished movies that exist (though I admit I also tend to be fairly generous toward a lot of “average” older films, since I’m a movie fan).  I just think it can be a little too easy to use that term:  a lot of movies (“Planet of the Apes,” for instance, in my opinion) hold up not only because their themes are more universal than their specifics might imply, but also precisely because they are “dated” – because they present a world that both is and isn’t ours, one different enough to be fascinated by.

          • Blair Kramer

            Yeah,  I’m Jewish,  but I believe the Holocaust was an anomaly. As bad as Poland and the Soviet Union was for Jews,  the mass murder of Jews during WWII was esssentially committed by one nation:  Germany.  After all is said and done,  one would have to conclude that, at least where our present reality is concerned,  life is continuing to rapidly improve for the ENTIRE human race.  This includes the people of the third world.  Poverty is still a reality.  And some people are still starving.  But food supplies and world conditions certainly aren’t as bad as they had been in the past.  Muslim extremists are certainly trying to establish a global caliphate,  but somehow,  I doubt they will succeed.  At the very least,  you will never see the establishment of the Muslim States Of America!  Therefore,  I am not worried about the end of the world.  For the most part,  life is good and will continue to improve. The environment will not collapse.  Disease will not wipe us out.  Medical science will continue to progress.  Overall, the human race will continue to thrive.  And movies that present dystopian fantasies are distined to remain precisely that…:  FANTASIES!  As such,  down the road,  THE HUNGER GAMES and other such films will prove laughable.

          • Steve in Sacramento

            Well, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree, Blair.  I don’t consider myself either a pessimist or a nihilist, but I’m also not QUITE as optimistic as you seem to be.  I haven’t seen THE HUNGER GAMES yet, but I maintain that there is definitely a place for dystopian storytelling in our society.  At the very least, they present the darker possibilities of human nature and rehearse various possible futures and scenarios.  So that’s my take; hopefully you will prove to be correct, and the human race will continue to improve.

  • Wayne P.

    Interesting debate guys over the legacy of futuristic spectacles in cinema!  They certainly have a mixed bag of critical success…some with more box-office showing than others but most have not gotten stellar reviews.  In that category one might place in descending order by date 2012, Avatar, Armageddon and Independence Day, although the latter two were at least worth a viewing, IMHO.
    However, some further-back takes on sci-fi that better stand the test of time (along with Planet of the Apes in my view-original only…sorry, no sequels please) are:  A Clockwork Orange and 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  The difference is quite simply the writing and directing.  Kurt Vonnegut and Arthur C. Clarke, respectively, teaming up with the always compelling Stanley Kubrick behind the camera make for excellent work.  Of course, these two movies dont have an end-of-the-age storyline/plot theme to them, but they’re certainly the epitomy of fine classic fantasy, which is never truly ‘dated’ no matter how old.

    Going really way back, Lost Horizon (1937) from the great Frank Capra, in the Golden part of the Studio Age, also certainly qualifies as a good work of cinematic fantasy; as does Fantasia, on the animation side of things, from Disney.
    If dystopia is the opposite of utopia then we Christian believers will never be in for (what we hope and pray to be removed from), a more ‘realistic treament’  such as is in store for the world when the true prophetic events spoken of by John, upon Relevation from God in that Book of the Bible, actually begin; sometime in the near future, no doubt…but I wouldnt give half a hallelujah for a good filming of it EVER to be released!

    • Steve in Sacramento

      Hi Wayne, agree with you about A Clockwork Orange and 2001.  Clockwork is such a brilliant film in an entirely twisted/troubling kind of way.  (It essentially does to the viewer much of what is done to Alex, no?)

      Also, wanted to recommend a really great resource on the book of Revelation:  The lecture series from The Great Courses called “Apocalypse: Controversy and Meaning in Western History.”  Really opened my mind to the various dynamics of that rather difficult book.  I’ll leave a link below, but if you do decide to purchase it at any point, make sure you buy it when it’s on sale – it’s much cheaper!  (By the way, I HIGHLY recommend The Great Courses in general.  I own a number of them, mostly on audio CD, and they’ve been one of the best investments I’ve ever made.)


  • Wayne P.

    Thanks for the resource reference, Steve and will check it out…a quick glance at the website shows that the author may be a Preterist (believes a literal apocalypse mayve already occured at the time of Nero ca. 70 AD) and that the Revelation of St. John the Divine is allegorical and/or metaphorical in nature and thus only to be interpreted as a Spiritual event in regards to its effects on humanity and not a literal future happening of cataclysmic proportions to the earth and mankind…the latter is known today as Dispensationalism!  That is the view I hold to…so, its a very interesting topic and another debate entirely, but your comments are well taken 🙂
    As to A Clockwork Orange, I concur in the effects of behavior modification on the viewer thru its treatment of the movie subject.  Weve discussed the meaning of the Monolith from 2001 elsewhere on MU blog-posts in April or May: Do Get Into Fights with People about the Movies?…my own take is at “Has a Movie Ever Changed your Mind?”  Please feel free to weigh in at anytime!

    • Wayne P.

      Sorry; I thought the one just above here had been taken out for giving the blog posting titles, perhaps, and didnt mean to repeat myself with the later post…but maybe it was a good thing because it allowed me to clarify some points a bit and so do regret any confusion!

  • Wayne P.

    Thanks for the resource reference, Steve and will check it out.  A quick glance at the website shows that the author may be a Preterist (believes a literal apocalypse mayve already happened at the time of Nero around the 70 AD Roman sacking of Jerusalem and destruction of the second Jewish temple).  They also hold that the Biblical account in Revelation is only allegorical and/or metaphorical in nature and to be discerned by Spiritual means and that its not a literal physical future event with cataclysmic consequences for earth and mankind!  The latter, known as the Dispensationalist viewpoint, is what I hold to…that the ages are broken down into 7 dispensations and the prophecy of St. John the Divine relates the last of these to us; but, it is real and will, probably soon, occur as nothing else in human history needs to happen thats been so far predicted with 100% accuracy in the Bible!

    As to A Clockwork Orange, I concur in the effects of the behavior modification practiced on the main character in the film and its infuence on the viewer being potentially profound as it was for me when I read the novel and saw the movie as a young teenager!   Theres also been a good discussion in postings from the MU fanfare faithful earlier this spring about the the Monolith from 2001 and what it represents.  I know the movie has an atheistic or, at a minimum, a theistic evolutionary take on human history and the future, but as it hasnt happened yet…maybe itll be proven wrong still as, until then, both evolution and Creation Science or Intelligent Design should be viewed  to be theories subject to equally vigorous critical analysis, IMHO  ;).