May the odds be ever in your favor.
Adapting Suzanne Collin’s book, The Hunger Games is never as good as it could and really should be. Despite the hoopla over it, Gary Ross’ direction and co-writers Billy Ray and Collin’s script result in a sanitised version of the book.
The Hunger Games is a gladiatorial contest shown on television where each of the twelve districts ‘offers’ one male and female between the ages of 12 and 18. This acts as remembrance of the conflict that almost destroyed the nation of Panem and as a sign of The Capitol’s strength (think classically styled Rome).
During the reaping for the 74th Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen’s sister, Prim, is called out to be the district’s tribute; in an act of sacrifice Katniss volunteers in her place. She and fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcheson) will be up against 22 other competitors who will be vying to kill them.
I have bones to pick with this film so i’ll try to whittle down my grievances, but the film is a shadow of the book. It condenses and expands the games and roles of several characters but ultimately simplifies the source, stripping it of complexity and perhaps in its worst move, de-emphasises the violence on screen throughout. Violence shouldn’t be glamorized but it should go hand in hand with the point you’re making and I’m not sure what Gary Ross’ point is.
The first hour is okay, wasting little time in setting up Katniss and the world of District 12. It’s when the games start that the changes become apparent and few of them enhance the story.
A prime example is Donald Sutherland’s President Snow. His presence is felt but not really seen, padded out to give the viewer a villain it can heckle. It attempts to make the film accessible and softens its edges, distilling the viewers’ ire into one character instead of the Capitol and its people.
Its lack of complexity stretches to its characters, who aren’t given the depth they deserve. The film is told from Katniss’ perspective but rarely questions her hypocritical stance on murder. The other contestants are thin, barely glimpsed and lucky to get a word in. The career districts are turned into cackling villains, stripped of their humanity, the film asking the audience to take sides, which turns a moral grey area into an easier to digest black and white one.
I haven’t even started on the shaky cam aesthetic. The effect of the contestant deaths has (rightly or wrongly) been reduced so you can’t tell what’s going on. Imagine your older sibling holding their hands over your eyes when you were kid and that’s the exact effect Tom Stern’s cinematography has here.
What’s good about The Hunger Games? Jennifer Lawrence’s performance is good (not phenomenal, just good) guiding the viewer through a world that’s strange and, at times, threatening. However, while her version of Katniss may not have the constant anxiety, paranoia and indecision her literary counterpart has.
Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinkett is spot on, her gaudy appearance and optimistic attitude a sign of just how far removed the Capitol is from reality. The same applies for Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman. Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’ stylist Cinna has a few moments; Harrelson’s Haymitch is not quite the boorish malcontent he is in the book.
Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is on the periphery and Josh Hutcheson’s Peeta is a character whose head you never really get into. The same goes for the relationships in the film: the book pads them out, here the film races through, giving few reasons to be emotionally invested in the outcome of anybody.
The Hunger Games loses a lot of the complexities and Orwellian mood the book evoked. I’m genuinely surprised at the praise that’s received. Whether you’re an avid reader of the books or someone completely fresh to it, The Hunger Games never really suffices as an intelligent adaptation. Disappointing.