The Hunger Games

Released: 2012
Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson

An impressive, frightening adaptation of a magnificent book

A few weeks ago I read The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. The dystopian saga of a teenage girl who becomes the face of resistance against a dictatorial government caught my attention more than any books I’ve picked up in quite a while. They were literally unputdownable and I finished the three books in just four days. Trust me, for me that’s very fast. Part of the appeal of the books came from the trailer for the film adaptation of the first novel. It seemed like a decent action story and it stars Jennifer Lawrence, one of my favourite young stars of the moment.

I missed the cinematic release of The Hunger Games but have now managed to catch up. I had pretty high hopes, after all the books had been so brilliant it would surely take incompetence of the highest order to make a bad adaptation. But would it be a good adaptation?

At some time in the future the world has survived a catastrophic incident. North America as we know it has been destroyed and a new country of Panem is established. Run by a dictatorial Capitol, there are 12 districts whose citizens are controlled by the centre. Each year a young man and woman (aged 12 to 18) from each district are selected to take part in The Hunger Games, a brutal fight to the death from which there can be only one victor. This is the Capitol’s punishment for a failed uprising by the districts 75 years previously.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen, a resourceful young woman from the poorest district who volunteers as tribute in order to save her sister. Supported by mentor Haymitch Abernathy, stylist Cinna and fellow contestant and possible love interest Peeta Mellark, Katniss fights to become the Hunger Games champion.

Lawrence shines as Katniss, she brings the role the vulnerability and fear that it needs but also the ruthlessness that the character has. Most of the supporting cast are excellent, particularly Woody Harrelson as Abernathy, the cynical and drunken former champion. Lenny Kravitz as Cinna was also excellent – his role could so easily been overplayed and ridiculous but he kept it low-key and touching. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta was the one weak link, he seemed completely overwhelmed by everything and I’m not sure that was just the character.

As with the Harry Potter film adaptations the necessity to create a film which doesn’t last nineteen hours means that certain elements of the story are minimized. As a result key aspects of the narrative are lost – characters who will become important later in the story are skipped over and the key love triangle is completely lost as the character of Gale is relegated to virtually a bit part for Liam Hemsworth.

That’s a minor complaint though and is based on knowledge of the books – I doubt anyone coming fresh to the story would notice or care. What they will notice and be impressed by is the sheer ruthlessness of the story and the almost constant sense of fear and tension that is prominent throughout the film. The brutality of the books is toned down, but not much and the film really does show the horror of the concept of children being involved in fights to the death for the pleasure of the viewing public. The role of the Gamemakers (not to be confused with London 2012’s brilliant Gamesmaker volunteers) is expanded from the novel and it works well to illustrate the horror of the situation.

I didn’t love The Hunger Games, but I didn’t dislike it either. If I had had more than two or three weeks between finishing the books and seeing the film I’m sure I would have been much more impressed. I’m sure though that the Blu-Ray will make it into my collection very soon and I am already looking forward to Catching Fire.

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  1. I skipped the books, but loved the movie. Can’t wait for the next two!

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