The science fiction genre of late has been filled with attempts that barely exceed our expectations. Luckily The Hunger Games, with its clever commentary on reality TV and the desensitization of violence, might just be the film we’ve been waiting for. Directed by Gary Ross, fans and new audiences can expect an intelligent blockbuster, that at times feels like an indie, despite its $100 million budget.
Based on the book series by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is set in a post apocalyptic North America (known as Panem), that consists of twelve districts ruled over by a totalitarian government in the Capitol. Each year, in punishment for an attempted rebellion, kids between the ages of 12 and 18 are randomly selected from their district to participate in a televised reality show, in which they hunt one another, until only the victor remains. When Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) little sister is chosen, she volunteers in her place.
Hyped and compared time and again (and stupidly so) to the Twilight Saga, anyone put off by these comparisons should think again. The only valid similarity between the two franchises is the size of their fanbase. The central theme of Twilight is romance – will Bella choose the brooding vampire or the short-fused werewolf? The Hunger Games by comparison, is a political science fiction drama, with romance thrown in as an additional spanner in the works, not as a central plot point.
As a fan of the books, there was always going to be a fair amount of trepidation going into the screening. After all, it’s not unusual for a film adaptation to completely miss the mark *cough* The Golden Compass*cough*. The last thing loyal Hunger Games lovers want is to feel short-changed.
Thankfully the film doesn’t disappoint. In fact, with the possible exception of the first Harry Potter movie, I have never seen a film that reflects its source material so faithfully. It has been a while since I read the book, but it was literally like Gary Ross had taken a snapshot of my imagination and blown it up for everyone to see.
A lot of the genius is in Lionsgate‘s marketing strategy. The trailer builds up the suspense, and stops just as the 24 participants enter the arena. With no images to form an initial opinion from, we’re are allowed to be surprised, scared, and disgusted by the events of the second half of the film, without feeling spoiled.
The Hunger Games is by no means a perfect film. The use of a steady camera in the opening twenty minutes makes you feel seasick after a while. That said we can appreciate Ross’s intention. He clearly wanted the audience to feel like we are watching a real reality show, closer to the horror as a twelve year old Primrose Everdeen is ‘reaped’ (taken) to participate in the games. Some slightly smoother transitions would have made the viewing a little more comfortable for those sat at the front of the theatre.
Once we are headed to the Capitol, this issue is quickly forgotten. We are transported with Katniss and fellow Tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) into the polar-opposite world of the rich in preparation for the games. Kudos has to be given to the costume, make-up and art departments. Additionally, The Capitol is as ridiculous, formidable and ghastly as Collins described in the books.
The biggest triumph though is the quality of actors involved. Oscar-nominated lead, Jennifer Lawrence carries the weight of the film with ease, her portrayal of Katniss played with the perfect balance between her determined and unforgiving nature and her one weakness – compassion. Josh Hutcherson is also likable as a baker’s son forced into an arena, and Woody Harrelson brings some character to proceedings with drunk Haymitch. The biggest scene-stealer is by far, Stanley Tucci as Hunger Games host, Caesar Flickerman, with his blue hair, big teeth and even bigger personality. Donald Sutherland meanwhile gives us a deliciously cold President Snow, who sets things up nicely for the sequel, Catching Fire.
No doubt most of the hardcore fans have already seen the film, but for those who haven’t, don’t go in expecting it to be a complete play-by-play of the book. A manuscript and a film are two very different entities, and while most events play out exactly as written in the novel, there are details omitted. Enjoy it for what it is. A faithful adaptation that has been made with care and consideration of its loyal audience.
The Hunger Games is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now.