“The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins is a book with one of those premises that makes you stop for a moment and think: “Wow, that’s kinda messed up.”
In the not too distant future the continent of North America has been split up into twelve districts. Two kids between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen at random from each district. One boy and one girl, to compete in The Hunger Games, a yearly competition that puts them in a massive arena to fight to the death until one remains. The games serve as a reminder of a failed uprising of the districts against the tight grip of the government and also as entertainment. It’s televised for all to see.
That’s dark stuff, don’t you think? Making children kill each other for television. How people can watch it for entertainment purposes is beyond me. I guess it’s just one of those things that you have to accept, whether you like it or not.
The film adaptation, directed by Gary Ross (‘Big”) has a slick, polished look to it and is skillfully made. The direction is competent and the acting is first rate. It moves at a swift but comfortable pace, considering all the ground it has to cover. The script by Ross, Collins and Billy Ray stays faithful to the novel whole-heartedly. Certain parts are cut down and some miniscule things are either changed or left out. There are a few small scenes added, mostly talking scenes that are there to provide explanation (the novel is in first person and therefore has a lot of inner monolog) but overall it’s the same story, no major parts are altered. We get to see all the kid killing carnage the book had.
The story revolves around Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) a 16-year-old girl from district 12 who--in order to prevent her little sister Prim from competing-- volunteers and along with the selected boy tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is sent off to the capitol where they get to live in the lap of luxury. Eating all they want, nice rooms to stay in. At the same time they get mentored by Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) one of the only people from district 12 to win in the past. Since it is a TV show they also have to make a good impression with the game makers and people who can help them out during the game (give them food and supplies), which is key to surviving.
Again, I just can’t get over how messed up all this is. These kids are forced from their homes, fed, cleaned and done up in nice outfits to make themselves appealing, like pigs to the slaughter. And all the while it’s televised, where people take bets on who will win and who will die. Excuse me while I go out and vomit.
And yet, I l feel like it could have shown that brutality more. The movie is dark to a certain extent but the reality of the situation feels glossed over. For how twisted the premise is, the movie doesn’t feel that raw. It has so much ground to cover that the harshness and viciousness seems downplayed. For example, in the book when the games start Katniss has trouble finding food and water and it takes her a little while to get her footing, but in the movie it goes over that fairly quickly, trying to get to the next plot point. It moves so fast that you sort of wish it would just slow down and emphasize the sheer miserableness and paranoia that I imagine anyone in that situation would be facing.
Now I’m fully aware that the producers of this movie don’t want to make it too dark and gloomy. They want to adapt the other two books in the trilogy so they don’t want to scare people away. But the fact of the matter is that the story is dark and disturbing and showing that to its full extent would have given the movie more impact as opposed to just being a franchise starter.
Even so, the movie still works for the most part. The first half, consisting of set up and preparation for the games, is paced extremely well, while The Hunger Games sequences are exciting and tense. Jennifer Lawrence delivers another commanding and confident performance. Katniss is brave, resilient and can fend for herself and Lawrence can do all that with ease. Along with Hutcherson the two make you care what happens to them. Meanwhile the supporting players like Harrelson and Stanley Tucci as Caeser Flickman, the master of ceremonies, have fun with their extravagant characters. Film franchises seem to bring the best out of well-known actors, much like the “Harry Potter” movies.
In the end “The Hunger Games” delivers a movie that fans of the book series will enjoy and provides solid entertainment for everyone else. My only hope is that the second movie will be even darker because whether it’s a low budget exploitation film or a high budget Hollywood picture, kids fighting each other to the death is still messed up when you stop to think about it.