I fought the Twilight craze because I preferred to see my vampires having wild sex and ripping each other’s throats out. I saw the first movie (zzzz) but refused to pick up a book and as I write this review, I’m not even sure where the film franchise is in terms of films made. I expected to do the same with The Hunger Games. First, came my boyfriend’s insistence that I read the books, followed by the eerie, Americana-lite track from Taylor Swift featuring The Civil Wars “Safe and Sound”, and then the realization that Jennifer Lawrence, who gave a phenomenal performance in Winter’s Bone, was the lead in the film. Those forces proved too much and last weekend I picked up the first of the three books. I couldn’t put it down.
I’ve always been fascinated by characters (especially children) who have to make choices they should never have to make and The Hunger Games might be the ultimate test of character – fighting to the death against 23 opponents. For those of you unfamiliar with the story in a post-apocalyptic world North America has been destroyed and what emerges is the dystopian world of Panem, a centralized Capitol where food is plentiful, luxury showers all inhabitants and a blissful ignorance pervades all in regards to the inhabitants of the 12 districts who live in abject poverty supporting the Capitol. A 13th District was destroyed in retaliation for an uprising against the Capitol. Thus The Games were born. Every year Districts are required to submit both a male and female tribute selected by a lottery who must battle to the death against one another in an arena at the Capitol created especially for the games The grisly games are televised throughout Panem.
The Hunger Games opens on the day of The Reaping, when a District escort comes to pick that year’s tributes. Herein lies the first example of the film doing an excellent job of conveying a lot of information in a short amount of time. The rules and the way and number of times your name is entered into The Reaping is swiftly described in the film allowing for more time for the actual games. District 12’s escort, Effie Trinkett, played ghoulishly by Elizabeth Banks gives viewers the first taste of the lavish Capitol.
Assuring her sister Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields) that she’d be safe from The Reaping, Katniss’ concern lies with Gale, her hunting partner and hinted romantic link, whose name has been entered over 40 times. During the emotionally taunt Reaping, silence pervades the crowd, Trinkett brightly greets the gathering and reaches into the glass bowl containing the names of the potential female tributes and draws a name. There’s a short pause before she calls out “Primrose Everdeen” Katniss rushes forward and volunteers to take her sister’s place saving her sister from certain death but placing herself directly in its path..
What proceeds is straight from American reality television – the tributes give televised interviews, show off their “talents” (think knife-play and archery) before judges and even get sponsors. The disconnect between the literal life-and-death nature of the game and the comical entertainment of their preparation couldn’t be more stark. The children are plucked from their districts, given stylists and thrust into the Capitol’s games and spotlight. Imagine if the Top 12 on American Idol were handed knives instead of microphones and you have a small idea of the ordeal they’re about to descend into. If you think Pia Toscano wouldn’t have cut a bitch faster than a real housewife, you’re mistaken.
Katniss is forced into a game in which she knows the rules but isn’t prepared to play the game . . . especially the way it was designed. The film does an incredible job of highlighting the disparity between Districts and the Capitol in terms of costume, makeup and set design. Where the film fails is in its rushed interpretation of some of its relationships. In its adaptation, I think some of the core relationships of the book, Katniss and Gale, Katniss and Rue and even Katniss and Peeta, suffer to a degree. The bond between Katniss and Rue was simplified and the result of impending doom of that relationship plays out completely different on film. The hinted love triangle never fully grows feet because Katniss doesn’t share much onscreen time with Gale and her time with Peeta is lacking in the is-it-a-game-or-isn’t-it circumstances in which her “feelings” arise. Understandably, it’s difficult to squeeze everything from a book into a film and since author Suzanne Collins had a hand in the script, I ultimately respect her judgment as to what was included and not included in the script.
Jennifer Lawrence, who admittedly waffled about whether or not to accept the role of Katniss, was so well suited for the role I couldn’t imagine another actress conveying such strength when confronted with weakness and honor when confronted with less than honorable circumstances. Lawrence commanded attention on screen and kept you transfixed throughout the film. All in all every character was cast well in their roles. I’ll reserve my judgment for Lenny Kravitz, who starred as stylist Cinna, just because his name hints at an integral plot point later in the series.
While all will be revealed when the weekend grosses are totaled, there are huge expectations for The Hunger Games. Already holding the record for pre-sales, expect theaters to be packed with youth and adults alike this weekend. The film does a great job of bringing The Hunger Games to life but if you haven’t read the books, I dare you to not want to after seeing the film. May the odds be ever in your favor.