After selling millions of books and being dubbed “the next big thing” by various sources, The Hunger Games debuted with the third highest opening of all time, seemingly justifying the hype. Despite it’s huge monetary gains, is it actually a good film?
The Hunger Games follows teenager Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a resident of the dirt poor, coal mining District 12 of the country of Panem in the dystopian future. Because of a failed rebellion by the districts in the past, the powerful Capitol now forces every district to nominate a boy and girl between 12-18 to compete in The Hunger Games, where the 24 kids are dumped into an arena and forced to battle to the death until one remains. Katniss’ sister, Prim, is selected for the 74th Hunger Games but Katniss volunteers to take her place and joins Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) in representing District 12.
The Hunger Games is easily one of the best book to movie adaptations in recent years, with the story and characters mostly intact with a few minor alterations and omissions. One thing that I really appreciated about the movie version is seeing the expansion of the world, especially the behind the scenes machinations and politics of the games. The book is told from Katniss’ perspective so she has no real clue about where things are coming from and is just trying to react and survive. The movie takes us behind the curtain and lets us see the control room for the Hunger Games and how the “gamemakers” are able to manipulate the environment to unleash hazards and monitor progress. The Hunger Games are a weird mash up of reality show, the Super Bowl and the gladiator battles of Ancient Rome and the movie really captures that from the constant, upbeat commentary from talk show host, Caesar Flickerman, to the seriousness of the tributes training to the holiday nature of the brightly colored citizens of the Capitol. I liked the gulf of the absolute poverty of District 12 compared to the Coruscant level wealth and technology of the Capitol as well.
As far as the action in the Games goes, the movie makes some sacrifices in order to maintain a PG-13 rating. The violence in the books is extremely visceral and graphic and the movie sort of cops out by utilizing a lot of shaky cam and pulling away before the final blow. Battle Royale it isn’t. There is still some really cool moments like Katniss using a nest of mutant Tracker Jacker wasps to ambush some other tributes, the “muttations”, horrible mutant dogs that are unleashed as the finale of the games and Katniss having to survive a forest fire set up by the gamemakers to drive her back into the middle of the arena. I couldn’t help but feel like the Game part of the movie was a bit rushed, even though the movie is almost three hours long. It’s probably just because 2/3 of the book is dedicated to the arena battle but it seemed like things were rushed a bit but I don’t think dedicating more time is the answer and I don’t know what the answer would be.
Jennifer Lawrence carries the movie as Katniss, even though we don’t get to know her as thoroughly as in the books since we aren’t hearing her every thought. You definitely sense the hard life she’s had living in what is basically depression era Kentucky and she also nails Katniss’ strong will and stubborness but also makes her sympathetic as well. Josh Hutcherson is surprisingly good as well as Peeta, being completely noble and pretty charming, although there is not as much of his playing to crowd of the Captiol as in the book. The supporting cast ranges from a weirdly dour Lenny Kravitz as fashion designer Cinna to the previously mentioned Caesar Flickerman, played by a fantastically excited Stanley Tucci to a menacing Donald Sutherland as big bad President Snow and, of course, a drunken Woody Harrelson as Katniss and Peeta’s mentor, Haymitch, a previous winner of the game and hiding an expert sense of strategy under a pool of liquor. The rest of the tributes are not really fleshed out, which is on par with the books as Katniss only learns a little bit about everyone in the three days of training, and the main antagonists of Districts 1 and 2 basically amount to the douchey cool kids clique in high school, except with deadly weapons. The one important character that is pretty much ignored is Katniss’ best friend Gale, played by Liam Hemsworth, who they’ll hopefully flesh out as he becomes much more important in the later books but basically just has a few scenes of intense staring.
Overall, if you’re a fan of the books, you’ll probably love this adaptation and if you haven’t read the books, you’ll probably enjoy it as well, although some of the subtler things from the book will probably pass you by. Jennifer Lawrence does a fantastic job and the world is an interesting one but some of the darker elements of the book have been sanitized to get a wider audience. I wasn’t blown away by it but it was a really enjoyable adaptation of a fantastic book, which I would recommend checking out first.
3.5 out of 5