A Game of Life and Death

The Hunger Games

The girl on fire

After much anticipation, the feature film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s dystopian teenocide hits the big screen. Amidst much hand wringing, lip biting and eye rolling of fans, The Hunger Games finally gets the treatment its young adult phenomenon predecessors were subject to.

In a future where the nation has fallen into disarray and disunity, Katniss Everdeen, along with heartthrob ‘we’re just friends’ Gale, combs the woods near her home in seedy, poor District 12 in order to shoot her family dinner. It is the day of The Reaping, the day where the 12 districts of Panem gather into their respective town squares so that one (un)lucky boy and girl may be chosen to participate in the latest installment of the titular Hunger Games. A ‘pageant’ where 24 young people go in, and one comes out. A battle royale, a fight to the death. Yeah, yeah, yeah we get it–we’ve seen the trailers.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as our heroine, Katniss Everdeen, to great success. Lawrence captures the determination and the hope that come to signify Katniss throughout the novels. Despite my adoration of Lawrence elsewhere, I was at first so-so on her casting as Katniss; but, having seen her in action I can say that she does the character great justice and I anticipate her portrayal over the next three films. Josh Hutcherson as Katniss’s dewey-eyed and naive partner Peeta Mellark has also captured just the right amount of nuance and charm from the pages of the novel. The young stars are helped along by a superb supporting cast including Lenny Kravitz in the calm, subdued voice of reason Cinna; Stanley Tucci as the efervescent and cheesy MC, Caeser Flickerman; and Woody Harrelson as the teens’ drunken mentor Haymitch.

As for the film itself, it passes the test with flying colors. With very few tweaks to the overall story, the screenplay by Billy Ray, director Gary Ross, and original author Suzanne Collins is extremely faithful to the source material. Only one glaring omittance, as far as I can see, that will effect the next installments is quite a job well done, as far as I’m concerned and fans should be sated. The action on screen is quick and raw but not entirely vicious. The killings throughout are fast, less brutal than their written counterparts, and shot shakely. If I have one gripe, it’s this. A lot of the action is quakey and disheveled, shot as if the camera whips to the incident half a second to late or is simply juggled through the air in hopes of catching glimpses of goings on. This could be deliberate, the camera representing the franctic, hectic seconds that flash before us as we witness a gaggle of teenagers murdered in an instant. But at the same time, Ross has a lack of understanding, or experience at least, of action films and I hope he gets this under control for the next films. Despite this, the movie will still shock and fulfill its bloody quota. On the other side of things, the scenery is gorgeous to look at as Lawrence traipses around the killing field, and coupled with a beautiful and present score by T-Bone Burnett and James Newton-Howard, you can almost forget just what’s going on around her. The film is lengthy, at 142 minutes, but still never dragged for me. Ross has paced this movie expertly, giving us enough time to set-up the Games, and yet still gives us ample time immersed right in them.

Allegorically speaking, The Hunger Games leaves something to be desired, could we get even one character that steps forward to decry the trappings of a horrific system that they themselves have created? But hey, we’ve got two more novels to adapt. Though the film skirts its implied moral agenda, never coming out and condemning this uncouth and bloodthirsty society, we’re all thinking it anyway. In essence, Gary Ross has crafted a well acted, faithful interpretation of a beloved story–but I think non-readers will be just as satisfied.