Happy Hunger Games! The countdown to the film adaptation of “The Hunger Games” is over, but can it possibly live up to the hype? The odds are definitely in this film’s favor. While not a flawless film, it is a great adaptation that remains mostly loyal to the beloved book series, but still provides plenty of background and surprises for newcomers to the story.
If you haven’t read or already heard the basic gist of the story, yes, this is about kids sent to fight to the death in an arena; however, the death scenes, though shocking, are not lingered upon. And yes, there is a sort of love triangle, albeit, a very different one than the “Twilight” Saga’s infamous triangle. Despite how basic that sounds, these things are not quite so simple.
The story is set in a future North American society called Panem. It’s been ravaged by war and is now severely separated by economic classes in various districts. To prevent another rebellion like the one that first destroyed the country, the government created the titular Hunger Games. Every year, each district provides two tributes (one boy and one girl) by lottery to battle against other district tributes. Only one tribute is allowed to come out of the games alive and this survivor would be showered in riches. In the poorer districts, they seem to recognize the terribleness of the games, but they’re so devoid of hope they don’t see how to even begin fighting the lottery. Instead, they’re forced to enter even more times into the drawing to provide their families of extra food – short term survival wins out over long-term safety. Meanwhile in the Capitol, the city that houses the government, the games are merely entertainment. These people don’t have to participate in the games and have become so desensitized that they’re most definitely not going to be the ones to question the morality of the battles. In District 12, the poorest and most hopeless of the districts, the games almost certainly spell death for the often malnourished tributes. So when Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) hears her sister’s name drawn to participate, she does a very rare thing…she volunteers in her sister’s place. And so Everdeen sets forth on an already extraordinary journey. If you couldn’t guess from the fact that there are three books in this series in which Everdeen’s the protagonist, she survives. That is not a spoiler. It’s everything that happens in between that leads to the twist of her survival that makes this an interesting story.
In the books, Everdeen’s story is told from her perspective, whereas the movie is told in a third person narrative. The film did a pretty good job adapting it so that it was still easy to understand what was going on without the support of Katniss’ inner thoughts, though it still stays tight to her and often uses a shaky camera effect to match her running or movements when she’s at her greatest moments of panic & desperation. The choice to drop the first person gave the film a bit more freedom to explore what’s going on with other characters such as President Snow (Donald Sutherland), head gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) and of course, the much buzzed about Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). This change in narration style allows for additions, but I don’t think fans are going to be perturbed by any additions (it’s the stuff that was left out that people will get nitpicky over). In the books, it’s a bit more difficult to see just what a ripple Katniss causes in the society until later in the series. The movie instead gets to show just what the effects of Katniss’ actions in the arena are in real time, which foreshadows what’s to come a lot more clearly than the books did. It also emphasizes the underlying commentary that the stories have regarding reality television & celebrity worship culture.
There’s a lot going on in this film, but the cast does a great job staying true to their characters. Jennifer Lawrence continues to impress and show great emotional range, especially in the District 12 scenes with her sister. She has great chemistry with both Josh Hutcherson, who plays Peeta, and Liam Hemsworth, who plays Gale, though I wish the script had allowed more room to really show just how complicated her relationship with Peeta is in the arena. It seemed too simplified in the film. Honestly, my main criticism is that all the relationships in the arena were overly simplified. The film did a great job laying out the story–like I said, the District 12 scenes were especially moving, the Capitol scenes were hilarious (you could really watch Peeta & Katniss develop increasing disdain for the ridiculous people of the Capitol, which were really well exemplified by Effie Trinket), but by the time we made it to the arena and all the fighting, Katniss’ complicated and emotional relationships with Rue & Peeta seemed too brief. Because of this, I think fans of the books might get teary eyed at one particular death, but I can’t see a newcomer feeling as upset.
As great as our main teen protagonists are, there are two actors that were constant scene stealers. Elizabeth Banks was phenomenal at embodying the spirit of Effie Trinket. She had all these little mannerisms down perfectly such as her affected accent and constant pursuing of lips. Her outfits were amazing. She provided great comic relief, but she also drove home one of the greater points of the story, acting as a symbol of unquestioning, vapid people that make up so much of society. The other scene stealer was Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the games’ host. He was OUTSTANDING. His mockery of announcer laughs sounded almost maniacal. I loved everything about him. He had an air of arrogance & obliviousness that reminded me of Harry Potter’s Gilderoy Lockhart.
So as I said at the beginning, the odds are in the favor of this film. Yes, there are some changes (most notably near the end), that I think some might take issue with, but overall I think people are going to be very impressed with how loyal this film was to its source material. Go see it! Although as much as I loved it, I’m even more excited for the set up they provided for the second film. Who’s ready to start the countdown to “Catching Fire”?