The Hunger Games
Adaptations, particularly ones from books as famous as “The Hunger Games,” can be tricky. Often the desire to appeal to the fan base can overwhelm the sense of telling a good story. Other times, the changes can be so drastic, that same audience can feel cheated. Fortunately, Gary Ross’s version of “The Hunger Games” doesn’t fall into either of these categories.
“The Hunger Games” is based on the widely popular young adult series by Suzanne Collins. In it, a futuristic country has been divided into one main city, where the rich and powerful live, and 12 districts, which supply those rich people with food, minerals, and the like. Some time ago, those districts revolted and lost. As punishment, and a reminder of their place, once a year each district is required to send one boy and one girl tribute to compete in the Hunger Games – a battle to the death in which there is only one survivor.
The hero of the story is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) – the female tribute from district 12. District 12 is a poor, coal mining region, and rarely is a tribute from there given a chance to win. Katniss, however, has learned to be a hunter while providing for her family. Her skill with the bow is unmatched and quickly makes her a favorite.
Jennifer Lawrence does a wonderful job of bringing the powerful Katniss to life – a feat not easily come by given that she has few lines and often is on screen alone. Despite those obstacles she manages to make us both care and root for her throughout the film. The rest of the cast is just as strong, and at times even stronger – a good sign for the upcoming sequels. Of special note are Lenny Kravitz as the sympathetic stylist Cinna and Stanley Tucci as the flamboyant host of the Hunger Games, Ceaser Flickerman. Both of them take their characters to another level, embodying them in such a way that the audience nearly forgets it is watching a movie and instead feels as if it is watching the actual Hunger Games take place.
Their performances did have help though – by the beautiful set and costume designs. The imagining of the capitol city and its citizens was nearly perfect – especially considering how lavishly they were described in the book. It’s not hard to imagine it being off-putting in film form. Yet, even though the hairstyles, makeup, and costumes are all over the top, they are done in such a way that it is easy to imagine those styles being the norm in America hundreds of years from now.
The meat of “The Hunger Games,” however, is the game itself – and it doesn’t disappoint. While some of the violence was toned down to keep the PG-13 rating, there is still enough there for us to see the true horror of the games. A segment in which the entire forest is sent up in flames is particularly impressive, as is the opening battle when the tributes are first thrust into the arena. Throughout the games – and even the pre-game training – the action is fun, frantic, and engaging.
As with most book translations, many characters storylines have been compressed for the sake of time – but usually in ways that make sense. Because of that the movie is paced well, and, for the fans of the book, all the important moments are hit. However, there is one character who is severely underdeveloped – leading to an underwhelming translation of a pivotal moment in the book. It’s almost as if the film relies on our knowledge of the source material to help make this moment powerful – something that should never be done. Those who haven’t read the book might be left to wonder why the characters react in the emotional way that they do. This is by far the biggest letdown in an otherwise fantastic film.
“The Hunger Games” is a thrilling ride for both those who have read the novel and those who haven’t. It’s well crafted, well acted, and a joy to watch. In a time when so many great novels, especially young adult and middle grade ones, have been adapted poorly and hastily, “The Hunger Games” stands out as a success. And, thankfully, there are still two more films to come.