Another worldwide phenomenon dominated the box office and news headlines across the world as “The Hunger Games” started off its opening weekend by breaking the record for largest worldwide opening for a movie released outside of summer and the holidays. It also sold the most first-day advanced screening tickets on Fandango. The most notable of these accomplishments is the abundant praise for the film. Not only has the silver screen adaptation captured the interest of those across all age dc emographics, but it also succeeded where many of the Harry Potter films failed—Director Gary Ross’s vision actually pleased many fans of the book.
Set in a post-apocalyptic country called Panem (a.k.a. North America), 12 districts surround the rich and bountiful Capitol, the location of the central government and where inhabitants are surrounded and spoiled by limitless wealth and luxury. Many years ago, after a failed rebellion against the Capitol, a treaty was signed which decreed that every year, a boy and girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district must be selected as tributes to participate in the Hunger Games: a televised event where all 24 must fight to the death. Suzanne Collins’s novel focuses on the 74th Hunger Games, where 18-year-old Katniss Everdeen from the impoverished District 12 volunteers in place of her younger sister Primrose. Unbeknownst to Katniss and the rest of Panem, the strong and independent heroine will soon become the symbol of hope and the spark that gives the districts strength to stand up again.
Often (wrongfully) compared to the Twilight Saga, “The Hunger Games” and its subsequent sequels are a far cry from Meyer’s angsty teenage dramas. Despite being geared toward young adult readers, Collins’s fantasy world holds its own in the literary world by introducing a young hero who forges her own path and possesses uncanny survival instincts. The trilogy also deals with such relevant themes as oppression, war, self-preservation and draws from mythological influences such as Theseus and the Minotaur.
Gary Ross stayed quite faithful to the novel and did a spectacular job showcasing the differences between the poverty-stricken districts and the excessive decadence of the Capitol—an important and recurring theme in the books. At the center of this pandemonium is the capable and charismatic Jennifer Lawrence, who brings Katniss to the giant screen with a resounding bang. The second youngest actress to ever be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Leading Actress in the film, “Winter’s Bone,” the 21-year-old Kentucky native has recently been praised by Rolling Stone magazine as the most talented actress in America.
Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss also brings to the forefront an entirely new type of female hero—a disheveled and bare-faced tomboy who’s good with a bow and would rather chase game through a forest than be primped and shoved into gowns.
The only disappointing element in “The Hunger Games” is the absence of Katniss’s gutsy-ness. There’s no denying that Lawrence translated the young hero’s vulnerability and bravery wonderfully, but some of Katniss’s actions in the film made her weaker than her off-screen counterpart. Many of those who read the book were disappointed with how the film diminished some of Katniss’s more courageous moments and glossed over the development of several pivotal bonds and relationships. The blunder, however, can be easily overlooked as the author’s tone and voice still presides a heavy reign in every scene. Collins co-wrote the screenplay, and her influence remains unchallenged as “The Hunger Games” is a reflection of exactly what she intended her world to be.
Other notable delights in the film include Donald Sutherland’s sinister and cunning President Snow and Elizabeth Banks’ eccentric and bizarre Effie Trinket. The novel versions of Peeta and Gale are generic and bland, and the misfortune bled over into film as Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth both struggled to breathe life into their two-dimensional characters. Luckily for the young actors, they have at least two other movies to tweak and better their roles, and hopefully by the time “Catching Fire” rolls around, Hutcherson will have found another way to make Peeta more lively and less of a background wallpaper.
With a PG-13 rating, Ross handled the bloodbaths and deaths skillfully, utilizing the popular and shaky handheld camera technique and positioning the scenes in a way that suggested gore without having to show it.
As a whole, “The Hunger Games” is a solid and well-thought out film that was able to coax and provoke the right emotional responses out of the audiences at the right time. Amandla Stenberg’s Rue and Isabelle Fuhrman’s Clove drew equal measures of sympathy and disgust from viewers, and their performances rounded out the group of young tributes.
It’s hard to not like “The Hunger Games” with Lawrence in the lead, and with “Catching Fire” often being toted as just as good of a book if not better than its predecessor, there will undoubtedly be legions of fans eagerly awaiting the November 2013 release of the second installment.