Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins (screenplay and novel), and Billy Ray
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, and Liam Hemsworth
Rated: PG-13 (teen violence)
IMDb/trailer | Official move site
I’ve reviewed the insanely popular book The Hunger Games in both written and video form. The video review still continues to be one of the most viewed on YouTube and is one of my most viewed videos. That just says something about how a story can have so much of an impact. The film version of the first book of the series was sure to be a success with an already astounding fan base, so I was quite eager to check it out. Luckily, I was able to get press access to an early screening of this one (yay me!), which made it all the more exciting.
The film is directed by Gary Ross, which was a surprising choice for me. He’s most known for films like Seabiscuit and Pleasantville, so I was unsure how he’d handle such an over-the-top production that the material called for. He ended up being a fine choice however, as the book’s fantastical futuristic and post-apocalyptic world was translated perfectly onto the screen. The writing is also done by Ross, with the book’s author Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray contributing to the screenplay. The follows very closely to the book, which was certainly a wise choice in order to not upset the already huge group of book fans that were guaranteed to purchase a ticket.
The Hunger Games follows 12 districts which formerly made up North America, now known as Panem. Panem is run by a totalitarian government known as the Capitol. Each year the Capitol reminds the citizens of their control by holding the Hunger Games, a fight-to-the-death survival competition featuring a boy and girl chosen at random from each district. The concept may sound similar, as the idea has been done in many other books and movies, however The Hunger Games still does manage to be unique enough to hold its own. There have been constant comparisons to other certain titles, however I find such comparisons pointless as the characters and world Collins created are original and interesting.
The story centers on 16 year old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) of the rustic and impoverished District 12. During the Reaping, or selection ceremony for the tributes that will represent the district in the games, Katniss’ younger sister Prim (Willow Shields) gets chosen. Without a second thought, Katniss throws herself forward and volunteers to take Prim’s place. The boy chosen is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and shortly after the two head towards the Capitol for their training where they are introduced to a world unlike anything they have seen in their village.
The Capitol was where most of my worries about the film adaptation existed. The futuristic world called for technology that doesn’t exist and wild clothing and hairdos (and skindos), which I wasn’t sure if they’d be able to match my imagination’s interpretation. However I was pleasantly surprised at the film’s ability to capture the book’s descriptions nearly perfectly. Not that I deny the ability of the talented individuals that have churned out some breathtaking effects and designs over the past several years, but it’s tough I think for a film to match what most people picture when reading the book. In this case, I think they nailed it.
Once the games actually kick off, the excitement doesn’t let up. For fans of survival adventure movies such as myself, the film is a treat. There’s an excellent display of survival techniques and tactical scenarios. While the film does don a PG-13 rating, there is also a surprising amount of violence involved. The story, after all, does involve kids killing kids, but the film is impressively able to pull of some of the more gruesome scenes without exploiting the gore and carnage. The action scenes are adrenaline-filled, which is good but could also give some viewers motion sickness. The camera work is fast, moving right along at the pace of the action. I liked the style at times, but the shaky cam also did hinder the detail of some of the combat scenes.
The pacing of the film also works both in favor of and against the movie. At over 2 hours long, it feels much shorter. Because of this, however, many scenes that in the book were very emotional and significant seemed very much rushed past in the film, placing more attention to the action. I understand there’s a lot of ground to cover with the story, and in order to keep it to one part they had to do a bit of cramming, but a few pivotal scenes were either ignored or barely touched on which was a disappointment.
Being highly impressed with Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, I knew she would tackle the role of Katniss with ease and she certainly did. I’m not usually too impressed with Josh Hutcherson, but I felt he did well as Peeta. The rest of the cast was just perfect, from Woody Harrelson as the drunken mentor Haymitch, to the always impressive Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman. The colorful characters were represented well, and I felt like the actors really brought each one to life.
The film overall is a great example of a book adaptation done well. There may have been a few things I would have liked to have seen, but it captures a huge amount of detail in a relatively short time that seems to go by without notice. With the Games’ impressive arena, full of manipulated nature and engineered animals, combined with a perfect cast and action that never lets up once it gets started, I can imagine without having read the book there really wouldn’t be a lot to be unimpressed with. While the books may be popular with the female teen audience, due to its empowering heroine, this is a matured teen survival adventure flick that adults of both sexes can enjoy.