The Hunger Games is a faithful adaptation of the book, and despite the comparisons to the Twilight series, the main characters are teenagers, and there’s are hints of teen romance, this movie has plenty of action (and thankfully, no sparking vampires) to keep audiences enthralled for the almost-too-quick two hour length of the film.
If you haven’t read the books, the story is pretty straightforward. In the “future,” the country Panem (a country where the current countries of North America once existed), is divided into twelve districts. After a rebellion was crushed by the Capitol, the Capitol, now in complete control of the districts, declared that each year, all districts would select one boy and one girl aged 12-18 to participate in a competition. The competition would be a televised fight to the death, and the winner would return to his or her district showered with riches and crowed winner of the Hunger Games.
The main character, Katniss Everdeen, volunteers to participate in the games when her younger sister is selected. From there, she is rushed into a completely different world. We see in the opening moments that the citizens of District 12 live in poverty, and it’s not until we see Katniss board the train to the Capitol that we see there’s a drastic contrast between her livelihood and the absolute rich decadence that residents of the Capitol enjoy.
The movie stays pretty close to the book here, sending the tributes to the Capitol where they are primped and put on display for the entire country. They are provided some training, and then they are placed into the arena for the games. You might be reminded of the movie The Running Man, and you wouldn’t be wrong. There are a some similarities between the two movies when it comes to the game.
It seems that the movie is in almost too much of a rush to get to the games. The characters are quickly gathered, allowed to say goodbyes, get to the Capitol, rush through training to get into the arena. It seems like because this section is rushed that some of the nuances of strategy of playing the games are lost.
The action in the game itself flows very quickly. The movie does a great job of conveying the extraordinary aspects of the arena, how much control the “game master” has over it, and how much detail is captured and televised to audiences. One of the more heart-wrenching scenes in the book is done incredibly well.
There is a decent amount of action in the movie, and the pace seems to be pretty good. I thought they didn’t go too over-the-top with the gore factor. Remember, these are teenagers killing teenagers in a fight to the death, so the PG-13 rating is warranted.
We learn that part of the strategy for the the tributes from district 12, Katniss and Peeta, is to play the role of “star-crossed lovers.” The goal is to get audiences interested in the fates of the pair, so that “sponsors” can be found. Sponsors, we learn, can send help in the middle of the games when the players are in desperate need of aid to continue playing.
But, the movie skips over much of this development between the two characters. I think a lot of this was in part to avoid the “cheesiness” of the Twilight movies, but I think the director missed the point. The “romance” scenes here help develop the relationship between the two characters and the audience (both the actual audience and the “games” audience). Knowing that playing the “romance factor” up is a game strategy, the book leaves the readers wondering how much is Katniss “pretending” or how much does she really have feelings for Peeta. Because we don’t know who is sincere or who is just putting on a good show, the cheesiness of the romance in this story works.
Without that buildup, though, the later scenes in the movie feel awkward and forced. In fact, once the Hunger Games are over, the movie quickly wraps things up, ignoring some of the fallout of the ending. It still leaves the movie open for sequels, which, considering the Hunger Games is a trilogy of books and considering Hollywood’s general lack of originality, will almost certainly be made.
I suspect that many will not approve of Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as Katniss, but I think she did an excellent job staying true to the character. Lawrence is tough when she needs to be, but she can be gentile and nurturing as well. The male leads are mostly forgettable, but Woody Harrelson does a great job of playing their drunken mentor, Haymitch. In fact, I think he’s given a couple of extra scenes that were not in the book, which helps expand on the overall barbaric absurdity of the games. Also, you may not recognize him without his trademark shades, but rocker Lenny Kravitz has a small role in the film as Katniss’ lead stylist, Cinna.
Even without the lack of romance, the movie is a very good adaption of the novel. Unfortunately, as much as the director stayed true to the story, some of the more subtle tones of the book were lost. It seems like there was a concern to distance this movie from the Twilight franchise, and there wasn’t enough faith in the material in the book to accomplish that. However, I think they could have spent a little more time, especially at the end to expand on what happened after the conclusion of the games, and to build up the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. Without these, the movie still succeeds as an action/drama of a bit of a different nature, and I have no doubt we’ll be seeing more of Katniss Everdeen in the inevitable sequels.