One of the more effective aspects of Suzanne Collins’ ever popular science-fiction novel, “The Hunger Games,” is its unrelenting sadness—a portrayal of a dystopian world that acts as an allegory for our own modern day class-based issues. Since its release in 2008, “The Hunger Games” has achieved a level of success that made a film-adaptation inevitable. While exciting for fans, some grew hesitant over one of the more “controversial” aspects of the book: it’s depiction of children participating in death-matches. With a pg-13 rating attached, how on earth could a “Hunger Games” adaptation be properly made, much less maintain the brutality contained in the novel? Director Gary Ross manages to bring the book to the big screen, crafting a rather faithful adaptation; however, faithfulness is not synonymous with quality, and through the cinematic transfer, loses many of the nuances found in its source material.
Ross opens “The Hunger Games” depicting the poverty of District 12, one of thirteen districts put down during a violent uprising by The Capital. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone)is one of District 12’s inhabitants. A born survivor, Katniss illegally hunts for her family and seeks to protect her sister, Primrose, from the possibility of acting as a “tribute” for The Hunger Games—a gladiatorial event where two tributes are forced to fight to the death against the other district’s tributes. Strong, and fierce, the character may as well been created with Jennifer Lawrence in mind as Lawrence’s performance captures the independent nature of Katniss rather well.
The film proceeds to streamline most of the events that take place in the books, though many of the smaller touches from the source material are lost in translation. A powerful moment of silent rebellion from the people of District 12 as Katniss volunteers to take part in the games is rather muted in its film interpretation. Even so, Ross, armed with cinematographer Tom Stern, manages to recreate the bleakness that permeated the world of Collins’ novel.
However, the film trips and falters as it moves to more fantasy fare. Katniss, partnered with the District 12’s male tribute, Peeta, (Josh Hutcherson) makes her way to the Capital to be pampered and prepared for the games. The film swaps out the harsh landscape of District 12, for the cleaner, if slightly generic, visual aesthetics of the futuristic metropolis. Katniss and Peeta, in a clever nod to our own obsessions with reality-show celebrities, are forced into a state of artificialness—smiling robotically for the attention of millions and, ultimately, for surviving the games. “The Hunger Games” lays its social-commentary on thick, parodying our self-obsession with fame; yet, the film loses the overall punch of its first half, thanks in part to some drab visuals–a scene during the opening ceremonies has all the qualities of a FMV video game—and some pacing issues.
“The Hunger Games” manages to retain some of its momentum during the start of the actual games, but it’s here that proves to be the most troubling. Gary Ross trades in the potential brutality and horror for that of visceral entertainment; what should be shocking is instead turn into rousing enjoyment as the audience cheers on Katniss as she faces a cadre of cartoon villains. For a movie that puts much emphasis in its message, it’s disconcerting how it avoids exploring the grey area that is typically associated in similar stories such as Lord of the Flies and the oft compared Japanese film, Battle Royale.
Ultimately, The Hunger Games is a solid adaptation that will make fans happy, and is a strong film directed at those who tire of Twilight’s long-reaching influence over young-adult cinema. However, those expecting a more mature science-fiction film may be turned off by the film’s “black-and-white” approach to its themes.