Ladies and gentlemen. We had the chance to see a sneak preview of the Lionsgate adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games this week. Should fans of the book series be concerned? Will audiences going in cold enjoy the film? Is the highly-publicized hype true? Read on to find out!
In order to accurately review this film, I feel like I should cater to the two, very distinct, viewers who are considering going to see it – those who’ve read the books and those who haven’t. I’ll separate the sections so that you can choose to read whichever parts apply to you, or all of them if you’d like to get more insight before you head to the theater. Any spoilers will still be covered for your protection. And without firther ado, may The Mary Sue’s Hunger Games review commence!
Part One – If You’re New To The Hunger Games
Although Collins’ novels are best-sellers (in fact, she’s the top-selling author on Kindle), not everyone has read them. Here’s my one plea to you before I proceed: If you haven’t, you really, really should. I’ve talked with several folks who aren’t regular readers and they flew through the book in a weekend or less.
Those who haven’t read the book shouldn’t be worried. The Hunger Games does a great job at world building and character development. The film is action-packed without sacrificing story and you’ll find yourself quickly pulled into a world not as far off from our own as you’d probably like.
The story centers on Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her life in District 12, a section of Panem, a post-apocolyptic version of the United States. Katniss’ district produces coal for all of Panem and is the poorest area of them all. Along with her mother and sister, Katniss lives a meager existence that she helps supplement by hunting in nearby woods with a bow and arrow. Besides simply surviving, Katniss and all the other children under eighteen in the twelve districts much live with a pendulum above their heads, not knowing when it might drop. Panem’s Capitol holds an annual event called the Hunger Games to remind citizens that uprisings will not be tolerated. And what exactly are the Hunger Games? Two children, one boy, one girl, from each district are chosen at random to compete as tributes in a fight to the death against the other children. There is only one winner. Oh, and did I mention the games are televised as entertainment? The concept, while frightening enough, is even more vulgar when you consider we’re not exactly that far off in terms of our current society’s obsession with reality television. It’s called a game but it’s deadly serious and the film doesn’t shy away from the implications.
Besides the concept, which in and of itself is something hard to look away from, what’s there to love about the film? Just about everything. Director Gary Ross did excellent work crafting the world and deftly handled the somewhat sensitive nature of the film (kids killing kids) while not shying away from the implications. But I’d have to say the biggest strength of the Hunger Games were the actors. I’ve only previously seen Lawrence in X-Men: First Class and was absolutely blown away by her performance here. She shows both sensitivity as well as strength while making the situation her character finds herself in completely believable.
Josh Hutcherson (The Kids Are All Right) is equally believable as Katniss’ fellow tribute. While he’s in the same position as she is, it affects him in a completely different way and seeing his defense mechanisms is intriguing. The other stand out in the cast for me wasn’t one of the other tributes but Stanley Tucci’s Caesar Flickerman, the outlandish host who’s job it is to interview the children before the games commence. Yes, he’s part of the Capitol machine but he’s used to great effect as almost a bridge between the two very different worlds. And Lenny Kravitz? Yeah, he was pretty cool too.
Yes, The Hunger Games is based on a book, a book in which of course we see everything through the eyes of the main character. The film thankfully branches outward to show things Katniss isn’t privy to and which only serve to enhance the plot. It’s a dynamic story, told by an obviously passionate director who led a remarkable set of actors through a spectacular journey. I was curious as to how much would be shown with a PG-13 rating. At first it seems the violence and gore are glossed over with quick edits but there were several times the brutality is shown in full view. Beware of that if you decide to take younger children who haven’t read the book.
Part Two – If You’ve Read The Book
Guy. Guys. GUYS!
The Hunger Games was awesome. I say that as a highly-critical fan who’s very picky when it comes to adaptations. Things are cut for obvious reasons but very few things are changed and even less of the creative decisions make any significant change to the source material. Yes, it’s hard to see things you loved from the book glossed over or completely ignored but let me tell you, by the end of this movie, you won’t care.
I’ll discuss a few specific areas that might be sensitive to readers. I will cover some spoilers here for those who don’t want to know specific beats from the film. The first big change I noticed was the absence of the Avox girl caught in the woods in front of Katniss and Gale. We see several Avox in the movie but that particular subplot doesn’t get flushed out at all, which to me is a shame, as a brief mention of even who they are and why they are could have proved to the audience even further the lengths the Capitol goes to in order to extinguish rebellion.
A lot of details are left out for time sake (even though the film is a very-excellent two hours and twenty minutes long). We see only a handful of gadgets and Capitol extravagances but it doesn’t hurt the film not to have more. There was only one thing left out that bugged me and that was a particular plot point from the end of the book. The mutated dogs that are released on the remaining tributes are in the film, and quite vicious, but it’s not even remotely suggested or discernible that they have been created from the genes of the fallen tributes. That was one of the greatest examples of how screwed up these people were in the books and I was disappointed it wasn’t included (though I can see how it would have been difficult to get across).
That being said, my only other disappointment is how little we saw of some of our favorite characters. Gale, Haymitch, Effie, and Cinna and his crew are all fantastic but there wasn’t nearly enough of them. You get their connection to Katniss, their concerns and trouble but in the scheme of things, they aren’t who this story is about and that’s reflected in their screen time. But what we do see of them truly represented who they are (Haymitch could have been a bit drunker), so for that I’m pleased. Lawrence couldn’t be more Katniss if she tried, you’ll fall in love with Hutcherson’s Peeta immediately, and Donald Sutherland’s President Snow is just menacing enough to know he’s going to be big trouble later on. And Katniss’ fellow tributes? Of course we don’t get to learn a great deal about most of them but the Careers get some great scenes. And Rue. Tiny actress Amandla Stenberg is the tribute from District 11 without a doubt. Prepare yourself.
Part Three – If You Think The Hunger Games Is Like Twilight Or Battle Royale
Ok, I know I originally said I was only going to break the review into two sections but in keeping with Collins’ sectioning of the novel itself, I decided to go with three. And for good reason. There’s a lot of people under the impression, whether it be from marketing or word of mouth, that The Hunger Games falls into the same category as the Twilight franchise. Yes, it’s based on a successful young adult book series but that is exactly where the comparisons end. Is there a possible love triangle in the film? Yes but trust me when I say that is definitely not the first thing on Katniss’ mind. She is not Bella Swan.
And as to the comparisons between The Hunger Games and the Japanese manga/book/film Battle Royale? They start from a very similar concept, children fighting children to the death, but that is where the comparisons end. Same general idea, completely different paths in execution. And that’s all I have to say about that.
The Hunger Games lived up to the hype it’s been getting and I’m happy to be able to add to it. This film will make millions and millions of dollars not just because it’s based on a beloved novel but because it’s a truly entertaining and expertly crafted in all areas. I’m certain that at least 95% of Collins’ fans will be happy with how the film was adapted and 100% sure that those who haven’t read it will finally come to realize why the rest of us are so obsessed.
The Hunger Games hits theaters across the country tonight. Come back and let us know what you thought!
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