Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novels)
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson
Release date: March 23rd, 2012
Running time: 142 minutes
Best part: The dynamic performances.
Worst part: The frustrating shaky-cam.
The first of this enormously successful trilogy of young adult novels by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games, has finally been translated to the big screen. With the notoriety this book has received and the difficulty of projecting this harsh story to large audiences, you have to wonder how they could possibly do a competent job. Thankfully they have; creating a beautiful yet sombre perspective of a reality show contestant in the most dangerous competition ever imagined.
The Hunger Games starts out in the realm of District 12, one of 12 districts working their fingers to the bone to satisfy the needs of the futuristic landscape known as ‘The Capitol’. With the 12 districts given the appearance of coal mining towns in the 1800s, its inhabitants work hard and follow the oppressive rules to survive. Teenage wanderer Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) envisions a life away from restraints. Her protective nature over her sister Primrose is brought to light when Prim is chosen to be in the capitol’s favourite annual event, the Hunger Games, in which 24 citizens, two from each district, between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen to forcefully participate in a bloodbath. 24 go in, one comes out. After volunteering for the event to save her sister, Katniss is accompanied by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). They must both physically and mentally challenge themselves in and out of the arena as their moral judgements, both for humanity and social indifference, will be greatly tested.
Someone who hasn’t read the books (myself Included) may see this for what it is; a bloodthirsty battle for survival featuring the teenage fantasy of good looking characters and romance in the face of danger, with an aim of pleasing the entire family. The translation of this book, while a hard one to pull off, brings elements from different genres and visual styles together in a charming fashion. The witty dialogue and chemistry between the characters is a unique and enlightening trait, sadly missing from similar adaptations such as Percy Jackson or The Golden Compass. Director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, Seabiscuit) creates a rightfully sombre depiction of events while being able to inject an appropriate amount of charisma. His direction in the slow, dialogue based parts is powerful. Poignant yet romantic technicolour dreams of The Capitol and moral ambiguity in the face of death is the perfect balance found right off the bat. The visual style delicately reflects Katniss’s strong emotional shifts. District 12 is reflected as a decrepit and colourless land surrounded by green forests, simulating her desperate desire to leave the borders of this lower class society. While The Capitol is certainly a sight to behold. A powerful and fixating mixture of Tokyo anime and New York fashion week depicts the technicolour plethora of futuristic yet concrete grey city settings and elaborate characters decked out in outrageous costumes and hairstyles. The performances also add to the charm needed for this depressing story.
“May the odds be ever in your favour.” (Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), The Hunger Games).
An impressive supporting cast including Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland deliver fun yet nuanced performances. While singer Lenny Kravitz is a revelation as Cinna, a stylist making the best of a bad situation for the participants. This is not a perfect film however as some of the more confronting themes and directions the book is known for are sadly lost in the translation. The film’s overall problem matches a similar problem with the Harry Potter films, in that it feels like there are so many elements brought in from the novel that the film loses focus and leaves behind any sense of emotional impact or connection. Jennifer Lawrence, Hutcherson and Hemsworth deliver dynamic performances, but the love triangle between them, when eventually touched on, feels forced. While the supporting characters fail to deliver a dramatic affect on any level and are strangely left out of most of the second half. Another major flaw is the game itself. The direction is uninspiring as Ross fails to deliver the technical ingenuity needed to tell this interpretation of kids being tested in brutal combat. Despite its shocking violence at certain times; quick cuts, uncomfortably close shot framing and an irritating shaky camera style unfortunately turn what should be affecting scenes of death into completely incomprehensible fist fights and blood splatters.
The Hunger Games, if anything, points directly at our love of big-budget entertainment. Revelling the hypocrisy, the movie utilises its impressive cast, solid writing team, and efficient director to bolster the YA genre. This adaptation is certainly worth fighting for!