Turning books into films is no easy task. This is especially true of The Hunger Games, the popular Suzanne Collins novel which has sold millions of copies worldwide. As a consequence, there is a loyal fan base itching to see their favourite book accurately brought to life. Whilst an almost unabridged book-to-film transfer is arguably the right way to go sometimes, The Hunger Games boasts some unique opportunities to add and indeed improve on the source material. It is this delicate balance which director Gary Ross has for the most part managed to strike, resulting in an engrossing film which will satisfy readers and non-readers of the book alike.
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The basic premise will be familiar to many; in a dystopian future, America has collapsed and is now called Panem, which has been divided into 12 impoverished districts and is ruled by an affluent Capitol. Every year the Capitol televises ‘The Hunger Games’, a battle royale where 1 male and female from each district are selected to fight one another to the death until only one is left standing. When her younger sister Prim is chosen, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. Against the odds, she must fight for survival as the nation watches on.
This story is about a great deal more than just the Games however, with thought provoking themes of capitalism and how we use others for entertainment present throughout. Ross deserves credit for condensing almost all of it into a 142 minute run time. Crucially, the segments of the novel which are omitted are not terribly missed, and the additional material offers some interesting insights into characters’ motivations. With the book told entirely from Katniss’ perspective, we do not get to read how her actions affect those who are not in the Games, and the film does a good job of portraying those consequences on screen. Perhaps the two who benefit the most from this are Katniss’ hunting partner Gale and President Snow (played by the excellent Donald Sutherland), the latter in particular allowed scenes which give the character depth not possible at this point in the novel.
With that said, Ross could do more to help those who haven’t read the book understand the subtleties of certain relationships. The much discussed love triangle between Gale, Katniss and Peeta for example needlessly loses some of its potency here, and if nothing else it will be interesting to see how they go about explaining it given the storyline’s prominence in future installments. Although understandable, another minor quibble with The Hunger Games is its judgement of time, in that events which take place over a number of days in the book take the better part of five minutes in the film, which at times is perplexing.
The action in the games themselves are a bit of a mixed bag. Although there are some impressive set pieces – a run through a fire burning forest the undisputed highlight – too often we cannot see who is hitting who due to shaky camera shots. Chalk it up to the 12A rating or just bad camerawork, but when you consider the Games’ potential to be something truly memorable on screen, it is frustrating that it doesn’t deliver. Nevertheless, James Newton Howard’s pulsating musical score does augment the scenes, heightening and quietening at just the right moments.
As aforementioned, Suzanne Collins’ novel is told through the eyes of Katniss, and those internal thoughts are brought to life magnificently by the perfectly cast Jennifer Lawrence, who is able to convey powerful emotions with facial expressions very effectively. There are many different facets to Katniss, an unlikely heroine who is vulnerable yet strong, confident and yet uncertain, and Lawrence depicts it all brilliantly.
Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson also impress as Effie Trinket and Haymitch respectively, both adding humorous moments to the proceedings. But maybe the actor who enjoys himself most is Stanley Tucci as the ‘Master of Ceremonies’ Caesar Flickerman, whose gleeful enunciation of almost every word makes for great viewing. Whilst the other young actors all hold their own, none of them especially stand out. However, this is something which is likely to change in future instalments as the roles of Peeta and Gale in particular come to the forefront.
“Any Last Words?” Despite some issues, Gary Ross has brought The Hunger Games to life faithfully and skilfully. Sequels? The odds are in its favour…
The Hunger Games was screened at the Cineworld Indigo O2 courtesy of Lionsgate Pictures in partnership with American Express.
The Hunger Games arrives in Cinemas on Friday. Check out the trailer below:
Starring | Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland.
Director | Gary Ross Certificate | 12A Run Time | 2 hours 22 minutes