YPM @ the Movies: The Hunger Games

I’m a big movie fan. In fact, I not so long ago wrote a way, way too long review of my top ten films of the 2011 film season.

However, I moonlight in my day job (wait…daylight?) as an Associate Pastor of a Uniting Church in Golden Grove, with a heavy emphasis on the Youth Pastor part of that job.

I love my job. I love being able to connect with kids, to feed into them a deep faith in Jesus that can give them hope for the present and future. I feel privileged to work with them and to hear their stories, to laugh and cry with them and to be permitted to offer advice for their lives.

Let’s face it – I love shooting them with Nerf Guns and tackling them in Gladiators as well. It’s a multi-faceted job.

So I thought it might be worthwhile to let two of my joys combine – youth pastoring and film watching – and offer, for those interested, a film review from the perspective of a youth pastor.

YPM* @ the Movies

Movie: The Hunger Games
Rating: PG-13
Duration: 142 minutes

If you haven’t heard of either Jennifer Lawrence or The Hunger Games by now then you must have been in a cave on Mars, with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears. Jennifer Lawrence has had a big few years, playing Mystique in the X-Men prequel First Class and prior to that in her breakout role as Ree Dolly in the chilling drama Winter’s Bone. But playing the iconic Katniss Everdeen takes it to a whole new level.

Teen novel-to-films are the undisputed kings of the box office at the moment. From the Harry Potter series (you may have heard of it) to Twilight there is a constant push to find the next big thing to put on the screen and vacuum in that valuable tween market, all disposable income and little savings.

Where this gets to be a touchy subject is in the question of ethics. Is it ethical to sell sex and violence to teens? Very few would explicitly say yes, but nevertheless it manages to worm its way pretty consistently into teen/tween novels and films.

The Ratings System
What factors am I using to rate this movie as a youth pastor? Glad you asked.

Voting in this particular rating takes into account a variety of things that I wouldn’t always consider as a moviegoer but include while analysing it as a youth pastor:

1) Acting
2) Story
3) ‘The Look’ (Cinematography/Production/Direction/Costume/Make-up and, for my wife’s sake, Editing)
4) Appropriateness of themes
5) Appropriateness of content

Add it up to a score out of 50, divide by ten and there’s your out-of-five stars.

So without further ado:

Acting – 5/5:

Pretty darn good, really. It’s hard to knock a supporting cast featuring the always fantastic Stanley Tucci, the rejuvenated Woody Harrelson and an almost-unrecognisable Elizabeth Banks. Add to that a second Hemsworth (no, not this Hemsworth), a diabolical Donald Sutherland and a slightly creepy Lenny Kravitz and that, my friends, is a supporting cast. As for the leads, Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal as Katniss (even though she played basically the same role in the excellent Winter’s Bone) and Josh Hutcherson solid as Peeta Mellark.

Story – 4/5

It’s obviously a pretty compelling story – you don’t top best-seller lists across the globe with a weak story – but  if you’re a fantasy/sci-fi geek like myself it’s hardly a unique concept. What makes it compelling is the interplay between the characters and the ‘last man standing’ concept.

For those that don’t know it, I’ll let Wikipedia explain:

The Hunger Games is a 2012 American science fiction action drama film. The story takes place in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future in the nation of Panem, which consists of a wealthy Capitol surrounded by 12 less affluent districts. As punishment for a past rebellion against the government, the Capitol initiated the Hunger Games–a televised annual event in which one boy and one girl from each of the 12 districts are selected in a lottery and are required to fight to the death in an arena until there is one remaining victor. When Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) hears her younger sister’s name called as the female tribute for their district, she volunteers to take her place in order to save her from having to participate. Joined by her district’s male tribute Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), Katniss travels to the Capitol to train for the Hunger Games under the guidance of former victor Haymitch Abernathy (Harrelson), expressing resentment for both the Capitol and its populace for forcing her and her fellow tributes to fight to the death for their own amusement.”

Well-put, co-contributing citizens of the internet.

‘The Look’ – 4/5:

I really wanted to give this 5/5. Direction is great, costumes and make-up will probably get a nod around Oscar season and (sigh) editing seems great also. BUT the camerawork is just crazy at times. Very annoying – often it just shakes about as if the director wants to give you motion sickness on purpose.

Appropriateness of themes – 1/5:

The tone and themes of The Hunger Games are pretty dark. Children pitted against other children in a battle to the death. The public spectacle of bloodsport. The crushing struggle of poverty. Inability to trust in authority figures…actually, that one’s pretty standard for teen movies.

The thing that really stands out is how tense this movie is. It’s similar to horror movies in its ability to make you think anything can happen, no matter how horrific. The last competitor to die has a particularly gruesome death. In a movie aimed at adults, I’d commend the director’s ability to create suspense. In a PG-13 rated movie, it’s inviting in kids who don’t have the ability to mentally disengage and looks at themes objectively.

Appropriateness of content – 4.5/5:

Pretty good, really. Though the themes and the tone of the movie are dark the actual content – sex/violence/substance abuse/language. Most of the violence is implied or off-camera and none of the other components feature, at least not in an inappropriate way (one older character has an alcohol problem). If it wasn’t for the low PG-13 rating and the existence of some low-level violence, it would be 5/5.

Overall: 3.75 stars

See it if: You’re 15 years and over, you like teen fiction, thrillers and good action
Don’t see it if: You’re under 15, you hate fantasy, you’re a fan of comedies but not Cheers.
Suggestion to parents: Despite the PG-13 rating, I’d recommend not letting any kids under 15 see it due to the violent themes and extremely tense/dark mood of the film.


PS – Seeing as this is the first time I’ve done this I’d love some feedback. This is primarily for kids and parents of kids but I’d love to know if you think there’s an area that I’ve missed or placed too much importance on.


6 thoughts on “YPM @ the Movies: The Hunger Games

  1. One of the youth parents asked me my opinion on whether her teen should be allowed to watch. I agree with you on it, under 15 shouldn’t watch.

    I loved that movie it was great. Made me cry in some parts, but could be just me. My friend screamed and jumped about a metre in the air in a scene at the end, it was hilarious, not the scene but her jumping.

    I think it would be great in general for Pastors to review movies, there was discussion on the appropriateness of 21 jump st after church last week and people were telling me not to see it but but older married couples were being dared to watch it even though it was apparently explicit

  2. We have spent much of the family discusssions ovver the holidays regarding this exact topic. Hunger Games and it’s appropriate-ness level. Dad and i are constantly looking at websites such as kidsinmind + commonsensemedia websites to find out the borning but important bits about movies. We were having this such conversation with a child younger than me who was interested in watching the film but his parents, influenced by our hesitation for them to allow this just turned 14 + intellectual child to go, when we had hesitation regarding our nearly 15 year old! And even i was checking it out for myself (17yr old), just to be sure! So, it is very interesting to see you now doing such a review. I think you did a good job, including looking at the (moreso) key things that we look for in our reviews ie the Violence, Sex + Language headings, often also drug use.
    This may be something that we are mostly interested in due to the ages of me and my brother and the themes and (e.g.) good/bad rolemodels of the film are a little less important to us -just wanting to know what will make us squirm or those parts of the film that just aren’t necessary. (Especially as christian youth) Therefore…the websites that i mentioned above are quite helpful for us.
    So, your review is great as an overview + i love it! Very broad and you do talk about the themes, acticing styles etc (the things a normal movie review has) but also the ethical side of the film (sex, language, violence.)
    Great review, and also nice + good to see that dad + my suspisions about the movie (it’s appropriateness etc) were correct to the ‘public’ eye! (not just some over analytical website reviewer!) 🙂

  3. Good all round review Mike… I like fantasy/futuristic film topics and this has appeal beyond the teenage market. My only advice is read he books first…if you enjoy the books you will more than likely enjoy the movie. The Twilight series of books make better reading but I prefer THG as a movie. I agree with your 15 rating but some younger teenagers could handle it . Age is not the only criteria for handling movies…a lot of adults for instance can’t handle Silence of the lambs.

  4. Thanks for the feedback here guys.

    I would agree with what Ron said – age is not the only criteria, but it’s certainly the easiest to control.

    In this particular case, I think The Hunger Games has some very overt, dark themes that everyone would pick up on regardless of age. It also some some more redeeming subtle, empowering themes and some good social commentary, but the average under-15 year old would likely be unable to pick those up leaving them only with the darker themes. It would be even worse if they were numb to the dark and violent qualities due to over-exposure to violence at a young age.

    One of the comments I made to a mother on Facebook about Hunger Games is that I would be more inclined to let a 13-year old see Terminator. Sure it has huge violence and the occasional swear word, but it has a strong sense of unreality. The Hunger Games is missing that and that makes it a little dangerous for kids who may struggle to separate that from their own reality.

    I also would never want people not to see movies just because they’re ‘secular’ or containing some bad language/violence etc. I think these can be used and/or overlooked in some cases. I’d hope we can look at the redeeming qualities of the movie as well and enjoy most films as pieces of cinematic art. Though there definitely are exceptions to that rule.

  5. Love it Mike. Think it’s really great to see you putting your opinions out for what is undoubtably going to be a very popular movie for the tween age group. I think it’s really important that people (such as yourself) who are greatly respected by those in the child/teen age group (and their parents) see a more appropriate review of things like this other than the secular review. My only comment would be that I’d like to see your last two categories carry a little more weight than the first three. That said I also see the importance of the first three categories, so … Anyway, love the concept.

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