It’s quite rare that I watch a movie adaptation within a year of finishing the book, but that’s exactly what happened with Hunger Games. I’ve told you in this post on Friday that I found the Suzanne Collins’ book to be quite a page turner, but fortunately, this is the one occasion where the film does the book justice.
Just what is the Hunger Games? Well the prologue tells us the background of this annual event. Every year the Capitol requires each of the 12 districts of the nation of Panem to send one girl and one boy aged 12-18 to enter into a gladiatorial competition where they must fight each other to the death until only one remains standing. The purpose of this is twofold, one is as a punishment for past uprising, and the other is as a form of entertainment, much akin to the various reality TV we watch today.
The film is faithful to a fault to the book’s timeline, with the first scene showing the poverty-stricken area where our protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives with her mother and sister, Prim. Her father has died years ago in a mining accident, leaving Katniss to pretty much fend for herself and her family. The film doesn’t waste much time to get to one of the most emotional parts of the story, the Reaping scene, where Prim’s name is selected to be one of the 24 participants (called Tributes) in the 74th Hunger Games. Katniss promptly volunteers herself in place of her sister, knowing that Prim would has no chance of surviving the game. That part is already featured in all the trailers but still packed an emotional punch when I saw it on the big screen, and boy was I glad I have some tissues handy. The other half of the District 12 pair is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a boy Katniss knew from school and who once helped her.
In a sort of twisted tradition, the Tributes are treated like royalty on the way to the slaughter house, so speak. Lavish food and sleeping quarters await them on the train to the Capitol and once there, they continue to live comfortably as they’re being trained and made-over by their stylists for the various televised appearances. Given that the games itself doesn’t start until halfway-through the movie, director Gary Ross is able to keep the pace moving at a swift pace and offer a lot of amusing scenes to keep us entertained. The part when Katniss and Peeta meets their mentor, Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a former champion who’s now in constant drunken stupor, is fun to watch. His words of wisdom to his trainees is “embrace the probability of your imminent death,” which is certainly true but not exactly helpful. The relationship between Katniss and members of her team, including her stylist Cinna, is nicely established around this time.
Despite the action-packed title, this movie is as much a drama as it is action fare, which is totally fine by me. I like that the script takes the time for us to get to know the characters before the brutal competition finally takes place. The gore and savagery of the book has been toned down significantly for the PG-13 rating, but I don’t think it hurts the film as we still get the barbaric notion of these games. It’s like Survivor but with an incredibly higher stakes that requires sharp instincts as much as fighting skills to survive. It’s apparent that Katniss’ got what it takes to be a victor, but it doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park for her. Not only does she face tough competition from other highly-trained Tributes, she also has to outsmart the Panem officials who run the game. They have the power to arbitrarily alter the rules of the game at the expense of the young participants.
As expected, the major factor why the movie works well is the casting, starting with the protagonist. 22-year-old Jennifer Lawrence definitely can carry a movie. She has the emotional intelligence and screen presence which enables her to hold her own against experienced actors twice her age. She definitely makes for a capable action heroine who’s as adept in the dramatic scenes. Now, the one actor I had doubts with, Josh Hutcherson, acquits himself well as Peeta, though he doesn’t exactly wow me. He does have a nice chemistry with Lawrence, which is crucial as their ‘star-crossed romance’ is quite a game changer in the way that nobody in Panem expects. Liam Hemsworth barely has any scenes as Katniss’ BFF Gale but I’m guessing he’ll have more prominence in the later films in the trilogy.
The supporting cast deserves a mention as well, particularly Stanley Tucci as the Capitol TV host Caesar. He’s just such an amazing actor that he can believably portray just about anything. Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz all lend credibility to their roles and each have their moments to shine. Donald Sutherland in his brief scenes, adds gravitas as the formidable President Snow.
With so much going for it, this movie is so darn entertaining from start to finish, there’s barely any boring moment despite the 142-min running time. The set pieces and costumes, especially when we get to the Capitol are marvelous. The outfits are described quite vividly in the book and I must say the fiery outfits of District 12 that earn Katniss the moniker ‘the girl who was on fire’ definitely stands out even amongst the colorful, over-the-top fashion worn by the Capitol residents.
The only gripe I have, which is not exactly the fault of the filmmakers, is that the movie can’t be set in first person like the book. It helps that I have read the book as it offers more depth that a movie can’t possibly capture. I’ll surely read the rest of the Hunger Games books before the inevitable sequels come out.
Final Thoughts: This is an ambitious effort but I’m happy to report that Gary Ross somehow managed to create a thrilling and engaging feature whilst staying true to the vision of the book. Moving between action and human drama, the movie made me laugh, cry and cheer all the way through. If one of the Tributes were to ask me, ‘are you not entertained?’ My answer would be a resounding YES.
|4.5 out of 5 reels
Given the $155 mil record-breaking weekend box-office, seems like a lot of you saw this movie as well. So what did you think?