With Harry Potter is gone and the Twilight Saga only months from the finish line, the world has turned to yet another YA series (also known as seriously addictive reading) turned multimillion dollar film franchise, ‘The Hunger Games’, to fill the void. Rest assured, there are no creatures of the underworld filling the screens in this one. The only similarity ‘The Hunger Games’ shares with its predecessors is the stock-standard love triangle. But like ‘Harry Potter’ and unlike ‘Twilight’. this romance is a secondary, if not a tertiary storyline.
This incredibly loyal adaptation tells us of a future dystopian world, specifically a country known as Panem, which is broken up into 12 districts. Each year, as penance for a past war that gave them the world they currently live in, a boy and girl from each district between the ages of 12 and 18 are picked in a lottery known as The Reaping to become tributes and compete in the Hunger Games - a gladiator-esque, televised event that pits 24 competitors in a last-man-standing arena. Our heroic protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers in place of her younger sister Prim, alongside Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the baker’s son. With the help of their PR advisor and escort, the gaudy Effie Trinket (an unrecognisable Elizabeth Banks), drunkard mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), the pair are pampered, prepared and presented to win - not an easy feat when the rules stipulate that 24 go in, but only one comes out.
No expense was spared when it came to the design of this feature, helmed by ‘Pleasantville’ and ‘Seabiscuit’ writer/director Gary Ross. The film beautifully depicts the oppressed lower districts in comparison to the opulent and garish Capitol along with its citizens, from the downtrodden workers to the filthily privileged. The source material translates beautifully to the big screen given its rich visuals, strong characters and high-concept drama. The violence is not spared but handled well, albeit with restraint given the film’s younger audience, without losing much of the original impact.
The book does well to take this first-person novel and externalise it for the audience. The book takes place inside Katniss’ mind as she figures out the world around her, worries about the life and safety of her friends and family, and strategises her survival in the Hunger Games. Using the televised angle, the film is interspersed with snippets of mass audiences viewing the games in their districts, hosts commentating footage of the coverage, as well as a look inside the inner workings of the game controllers themselves - a point that is only ever alluded to in the books as Katniss draws on her knowledge of past games.
Lawrence encapsulates all of Katniss’ qualities and commands the screen with her independence, stoic exterior, highly compassionate and emotional interior, intelligence, supreme survival instincts and quiet beauty.
Lawrence encapsulates all of Katniss’ qualities and commands the screen with her independence, stoic exterior, highly compassionate and emotional interior, intelligence, supreme survival instincts and quiet beauty. The other main players, as well as Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Liam Hemsworth and Donald Sutherland, do what they do best with their rich and exciting characters.
The film rarely takes a false step. There are a few subtle and quick acknowledgements to the rules of this world that might go by unnoticed having not read the book or forgotten by those not fresh to the story, but that doesn’t take away from its enjoyment and understanding. The comic elements and relief provided in the novel by Haymitch and Peeta are also waylaid in place of action and exposition. Given the film’s heavy concept, this probably shouldn’t have remained on the cutting room floor.
At 2 hours and 14 minutes, not a second of this film lags. It has it all - action, adventure, sci-fi and just a hint of romance (enough to keep the girls keen). Definitely something to please everyone, especially fans of the series - who will NOT be disappointed.