The Hunger Games based on the first book in the immensely popular book series by Suzanne Collins and it opened in theaters this past Friday. The film made 152 million dollars making it 3rd in opening box office haul, behind only the last Harry Potter and The Dark Knight. Lionsgate, the company that released the film, had not green-lit the subsequent books for film adaptation as of this writing. The studio wanted to see how the first one performed before agreeing to the subsequent books. Judging on opening weekend it is safe to say we will see, Catching Fire and Mockingjay coming to a theater near you!
The Hunger Games is set in the future in the remnants of the United States. The country is broken up into 12 districts who supply the Capitol with resources while living in relative poverty. The government keeps the masses in line by brute force and martial law. One of the things the government does to keep the districts in line is a state sponsored a bloodsport that is televised around the country. Called The Hunger Games, they serve as a reminder of a failed rebellion decades ago. It was during that rebellion that district 13 was wiped off the map.
For these games the government requires the districts to send 2 tributes (a male and a female) into the arena. Children ranging in age from 12-18 are required by law to have their names entered into the drawing called The Reaping. A child’s name can be placed in the drawing more than once a year and in return family receives government subsidized food. The winner of The Hunger Games is set for life. Winners receive money, a home in the “Victor’s Village” within their district and fame.
The government of Panem has forced the populace to give up their children for 73 years prior to the Games depicted in the movie. On the day of the Reaping, Katniss’ (Jennifer Lawrence) 12 year old sister Prim (Willow Shields) is chosen and they only way to save her is for Katniss to volunteer in her stead. Katniss who had been helping to support her family since her father died in a mine accident knew she had a better chance at winning than Prim.
The film adaption is pretty faithful to the source material. There are parts left out from the book, characters and minor sub-plots that if you haven’t read the book you would never know they were missing. One of the points that would have added to the story was the mutations that are sent into the arena at the end. In the book the “mutts” have human eyes but not just human eyes they have the eyes of the tributes that had already been killed in the game. This was creepy in the book and I believe it would have given the audience a better understanding of the cruelty of the government. It is impossible to put everything from a book into an adaptation but it would have made the encounter with the “mutts” more shocking. One point that annoyed me was that Prim’s cat Buttercup is described in the book as yellowish/orange like her namesake. In the movie that cat was black and white. This was not something major but as a fan of the novels it is hard not to nitpick.
The casting was pretty spot on. Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence was perfect as the strong willed Katniss. I felt that she captured the spirit of the character as she was in the novel. As for the other members of the love triangle, Josh Hutchinson did a fine job as the baker’s son Peeta and Liam Hemsworth was perfect as Katniss’ best friend, Gale. Though there is a love story that is part of this movie it is not the main storyline which should make it appealing to a wider audience. The Hunger Games has drawn comparisons to another teen book series, Twilight. Unlike the Twilight franchise, The Hunger Games is more about the totalitarian government and the games rather than the love story. The love aspect however is explored more in the subsequent books. The Twilight Saga is also pure fantasy whereas the idea of people on live television fighting to the death is very believable. The greatest difference is that the love interests are age appropriate. There isn’t any character falling in love with a newborn.
Also starring in The Hunger Games are Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, the only winner from district 12 and mentor to Peeta and Katniss. Elizabeth Banks is unrecognizable under the layers of make-up she wears to play Effie Trinket. Effie is the chaperone for the tributes from district 12 and is obsessed with the fashions of the Capital which is why her manner of dress is so garish. Rounding out the cast are Donald Sutherland as President Snow the evil President of Panem, Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman the host of The Hunger Games and Lenny Kravits as Katniss’ designer, Cinna. My only problem with Kravits as Cinna is that from the novel I pictured Cinna as more flamboyant that what is portrayed in the movie. Kravits does a great job and I hope he reprises his role in the next movie.
Directed by Gary Ross, whose previous credits include Seabiscuit and Pleasantville, The Hunger Games is very entertaining. The fighting scenes could have benefitted from wider angles as I feel that tight shots on a fight make it harder to follow. Another choice that was over used was the use of hand-held shots giving the audience what I term the “shaky cam” effect. The use of hand-held cameras does bring the audience into the action but you can have too much of a good thing.
The Hunger Games does what all good science fiction does; it makes a statement. The story is a perfect commentary of our society as we become more and more voyeuristic with the glut of reality television shows flooding our airwaves. The Hunger Games is Survivor, The Amazing Race, The Bachelor and Big Brother all rolled into one. Combine this with the fact that 1% of the population are the “haves” and the 99% are the “have nots” and we have the chance of this movie being very prophetic.
I do recommend The Hunger Games but due to its violence it may be too intense for small children. This is a great date movie because there is something for everyone. You do not have to be a fan of Science Fiction to enjoy this film. The actual Science Fiction aspects are so downplayed that you won’t even notice you are watching a Sci-Fi film. So grab a bucket of popcorn and enjoy. And may the odds be ever in your favor.