When J.K. Rowling penned the Harry Potter novels, she created a strange phenomenon that has, perhaps, never before been seen in the history of humanity. A novel intended to target Young Adults, people of all ages, philosophies, backgrounds and typical reading levels started to grab hold. Reaching well beyond its originally intended audience, the series became a sensation, spanning the years and gathering readers far and wide, including people who generally would never have bothered reading books. This was a series that, while no “Moby Dick” or “The Great Gatsby,” managed to become a worldwide phenomenon that encouraged people to read books again. As a bibliophile since birth, it was heartening to see such a trend take place.
Then, the series ended. Whether it ended well or not is for the individual to judge, but the ending created a gaping whole in the reading experience of so many that had followed the series faithfully, many of whom had never really read for pleasure, never read a series from start to end.
In walked the Twilight series. Stephenie Meyer walked in to fill that gap, and many, desperate for another hint of literary flavor, devoured her offerings.
You may be of the opinion that Twilight is an amazing series. I’m going to go ahead and tell you it’s a load of fetid crap. You can point out that that’s my opinion, but in actuality, it’s the opinion of many. The Twilight series took the movement that Harry Potter created and rent it in two, creating a sometimes vicious fight between extremes of those Twilight lovers and haters. It seemed like the series and the fight would irreparably harm the boost to literature for the common man the Harry Potter series made.
Then, subtly and quietly, a book called “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins appeared. Curious teens given the book as required reading in schools came to bookstores looking for the sequels, parents following them aghast, curious themselves about what books could actually make their children want to read. People from both sides of the (ongoing) Twilight wars started to wander toward Collins’ offerings, discovering an amazing, thematically and philosophically thick science fiction dystopian tale entwined with gruesome plot and wonderful characters.
In four years, one more than Twilight and the same number of years as Harry Potter, “The Hunger Games” became a movie. Likely I will talk about the book in a different review, where I will discuss it in more thematic terms. But I’m here to talk about the film.
As you may have guessed, I read the books before the film came out. A trusted friend and Elite Bibliophile (we get rankings… I’m an amateur) lent me the first book, and I was hooked before a film was even in public discussions. I will compare the movie to the film, as is natural, but I want to try to talk about the movie as a standalone product.
In what will be Lionsgate’s biggest moneymaker yet, Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen, a girl living in the squalid, rickety, collapsing District 12. As we learn through a film that takes gives lessons on propaganda, the nation of Panem, resting on what was once North America, is controlled by a central Capitol. Due to a failed attempt at revolution, every year, the Capitol randomly selects a boy and a girl, ages 12 to 18, from each district to fight for honor, glory, wealth and fame in the Hunger Games. It is a fight to the death, where only one victor is allowed. Katniss, volunteering in place of her sister, is sent to the Games with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson).
The film spends only a minimal amount of time in the district. It’s long enough to meet Katniss’ best friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), to see the filth and decay they live in daily, and to establish that Katniss is an expert hunter, particularly with a bow and arrow. Perhaps the most foreshadowing moment while in the district is the presence of a citizen of the Capitol, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). In a world of grays and dust, she is a vibrantly pink… well, freak, covered in extravagant and oddly placed makeup.
On the path to the Capitol, we are introduced to Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a former victor of the games and an alcoholic who looks and acts almost like Owen Wilson… yet a hidden intelligence and danger lies behind his eyes and actions at nearly every moment.
The citizenry in the Capitol are gaudy, garish and freakish, separating themselves from the rest of the normal humans, like Katniss, through their extravagance that leads them to be people we are unable to connect with. The only real exceptions to this are Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), whose only vanity is gold eyeliner, the Gamemaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), who has a rather intensely odd beard and oddly intense eyeliner, and President Snow (Donald Sutherland).
I could keep going into specifics, but I’d like to leave things to the potential audience and those that haven’t read the book. For this film, casting was amazing. While characters strayed from what I expected they’d look like, Lawrence as Katniss is phenomenal. As this movie is nearly a documentary of Katniss’ trials, Lawrence had a mighty task to hold this film on her shoulders, and she does so spectacularly. This is my introduction to her as an actress, and it is a fabulous one to have. Stanley Tucci as the man tasked with making potential murder victims lovable through a talk show is delightfully spot on, and has just the right hint of eeriness present in nearly all citizens of the apathetic-to-death Capitol. And Sutherland brings a regal, authoritative nature to the role of Snow, but it’s a nature under which clearly lies a vicious snake, a man willing to kill to have his way, willing to crush all opposition.
The film, in order to achieve a PG-13 rating, appears to have attempted to soften the blow of a heavy subject, gladiatorial children, by making the action in the Games chaotic and, at times, completely impossible to follow. It can get really annoying at certain points, but it’s understandable and still fits with the themes present in the film.
As for comparisons to the books… This was an amazingly faithful translation. It was accurate when it needed to be and inspired elsewhere. At 2 and a half hours long, the movie makes you realize exactly how dense the book really was. There is much missing, yet so much there. Some of the missing moments are disappointing, like the story of the Avox girl, a slave who has been forcibly made mute by the Capitol. There may be deleted scenes in the DVD dealing with her, as she was cast and present in the background.
But one of the wonderful things I loved about this film was what it added to the book, things the book was unable to explore due to its dedication to singling the point of view to Katniss. Added to the film are some more intimate moments with the Gamemaker that bring out the character of the Capitol, the Games and Snow, a man who unapologetically offers up the reasoning for the Games: Only hope is stronger than fear. Give them a spark, but keep it controlled.
All in all, this is an excellent, theme-heavy film. Unfortunately, it is fast paced at times and suffers from losing time with many of the characters. As the focus is almost exclusively on one person, this is unfortunately expected. Still, this is one of the best book adaptations I’ve ever seen, and as far as I can tell, an amazing stand alone film definitely worth at least one view. It will grip you emotionally, threatening you with sorrow and, at times, pants-crapping fear. I read the book and knew what to expect, but there are just some scary moments. This movie does all a movie should do and more. It clearly dangles slightly for the sequels that are almost certainly to be made based on the next books, but the film is not truly hindered by this fact.
See the movie. You will not likely regret it.