Let me start this review by setting the record straight. Many fans of Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games book series were concerned that director Gary Ross wouldn’t do the dark dystopian novels justice. To you I say: worry not, even the most diehard of fanatics will not be disappointed by this film adaptation.
The Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic society where corrupt authority, The Capitol, rules over the nation of Panem with an iron fist. Led by the formidable President Snow (Donald Sutherland), The Capitol aims to quash any chance of another uprising by enforcing “The Hunger Games.” The annual televised event calls for one boy and girl from each of the country’s 12 districts to participate in the cruel competition. These 24 “tributes” must fight to the death in a specially designed arena until only one is left standing.
Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), well and truly steps up to the gauntlet when she volunteers to take the place of her younger sister Primrose as the unlucky district 12 tribute. She is joined by Peeta Mallark (Josh Hutcherson), a nervous but strong baker’s son, as they embark on their journey to the Capitol with the prospect of their return looking more and more improbable as the train zooms out of sight. Accompanying them is vapid chaperone Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), alcoholic mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and personal stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) who share the job of preparing the young tributes and advise them on how to survive in the arena. They’ll need more than just weapons and a steady aim where they’re going.
Their eventual arrival at the Capitol is a stark contrast to their meagre upbringing back in district 12. Surrounded by high-society rich types and the daunting prospect of winning over the audience to gain favour in the games, the tributes begin to feel overwhelmed as the reality of their dire situation sets in. If they can’t make an impression here, especially with the sponsors who can send them food and supplies, then their chances of survival within the arena is drastically lowered. May the odds be ever in their favour…
The film follows the novel’s storyline almost to a tee with only a few minor variations as the bloodbath begins. Obviously the comparisons to Twilight are bound to come flooding in as a love story/triangle sub-plot develops but Jennifer Lawrence can certainly hold her own, and Bella Swan she ain’t. Pitted against specially trained career tributes and a whole host of Capitol-engineered enemies, Katniss battles her way through the arena, narrowly avoiding danger at every turn. Because there are 24 tributes to introduce as well as number of other core characters, one of the few issues with this adaptation is character development. Perhaps the film would have benefited from showing more background information on the other key tributes (such as Thresh or Foxface) or divulging in the history of the Mockingjay, which in the book is a prolific symbol for change. Peeta is somewhat unfortunately underused but with only two and a half hours, there’s only so much filmmakers can do.
Overall the film is visually stunning with an expert blend of tense and emotional scenes without being overly complicated; those who haven’t read the books will be more than able to keep up with the pace. The jittery camera angles and quick, cut-away shots only add to the dramatic atmosphere of the arena and for a 12A it’s a pretty violent film. The weight of success falls squarely on the shoulders of Jennifer Lawrence who here does an impressive job of bringing the vulnerable albeit courageous Katniss to the big screen.
All in all there isn’t really much to complain about as the core themes from the book are played out and a solid portrayal of main characters is achieved. As the first instalment of a four-part series (we assume the third will be split into two parts) it’s off to a very promising start and looks set to break box-office records this month. The only downside is that we’ll have a long wait until November 2013 for the sequel, Catching Fire.
The Hunger Games may not be perfect, but it comes pretty damn close.
Platform rating: 9 ½ / 10
Lora Somers – Platform
Tags: 12A, Catching Fire, Effie Trinket, Elizabeth Banks, fight to death, Haymitch, Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Katniss Everdeen, Lenny Kravitz, Mockingjay, novel, Peeta Mallark, Stanley Tucci, trilogy, woody harrelson