I’ve mentioned this before, but I feel like reiterating: Reading makes me super tired. Books are heavy, there’s a lot of turning pages, people expect you to read a lot of words. It’s stressful and I avoid it where I can. But when it came to The Hunger Games, I read the first book in two days. It’s taken me longer to read restaurant menus. So I was unabashedly excited to see the film adaptation of the popular trilogy.
Set in a distant future, in a nation named Panem, The Hunger Games is the story of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a young girl forced to become caretaker to her young sister, Primrose, and her emotionally stunted mother. The Everdeens live in the last of the twelve districts that surround the Capitol of Panem. Years earlier, there was a rebellion against the Capitol – referred to as the ‘Dark Days’. As punishment for this rebellion, every year at a ceremony known as the ‘reaping’, one boy and one girl – known as ‘tributes’ – between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district are selected in a lottery to participate in the Hunger Games. The Games themselves are simple – televised across the nation, twenty-four tributes enter a massive arena and fight until only one remains. Winning the Hunger Games brings pride to your district but more importantly; food to your district and also the added bonus of not having a 16-year-old rip your face off using nothing but some twigs and some sharpened Dixie Chicks CDs (scientifically proven to survive any vague apocalyptic events).
Violent, right? But whatever, it’s a lottery so it’s not like the main character of the novel is going to get picked for a fight to the death. HER SISTER DOES! Now I’ll be honest, throughout all three books all we hear is Prim this, Prim that, Peeta/Gale, Peeta/Gale, Prim, Prim, Gale/Peeta, Prim. I don’t care much for Prim, so when she gets picked as District 12’s female tribute I was like ‘BYE, SUCKAA’. But alas, the noble and protective Katniss steps forward and volunteers herself as tribute. Soon after, the male tribute of 12, Peeta, is chosen. Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is the small, unassuming son of a baker, and nobody loves Peeta so no one volunteers to save him. Sucks to be Peeta. Peeta and Katniss are whisked away and are allowed to say goodbye to their closest friends and family before they are taken to the Capitol for pre-Hunger Games fun. Katniss says goodbye to Prim and her mother, as well as Gale.
A note – while the books are narrated entirely in first-person from Katniss’s point-of-view, the film is limited to a third-person objectivity that doesn’t allow for the insights you get into Katniss’s mind. An example of this is the character of Gale (Liam Hemsworth).
The Book: “As a young girl I have a lot of feelings. Some of those feelings are for Gale. How do I feel about Gale, let me count the ways during this entire book. We get along really well. I don’t love Gale BUT I MIGHT LOVE GALE, have I mentioned how well we get along and how I love him I DIDN’T MEAN LOVE I mean like. Maybe like-like. I don’t know.”
The Film: “DON’T LET MY FAMILY STARVE, GALE. BYE GALE. BYE”
This is probably one of two major points of departure between the books and the film where the script simply assumes the audience has read the novels. This, as well as the severity of the dictatorship of the Capitol and the terrible conditions of the districts are very much assumed knowledge, which I think was unfortunately handled poorly.
Katniss and Peeta begin training with their mentor – and my spiritual mentor (re: drunkard) – Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and are soon sent into the arena of death, destruction and also Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid’s son is there. What follows is a story of survival, twists, turns, and tweenicide.
As a fan of the first book, this film was easy for me to love. But Jennifer Lawrence made it so much easier. She’s captivating in her incredibly earnest Katniss, and plays the role with a real fragility. At no point are we forced to like Katniss, but Lawrence makes it almost impossible not to find her strength admirable. Hutcherson also manages to make what is essentially a real nag of a character into something quite charming, and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket was stunning.
The film also departs from the books to give the viewer a little more insight into the inner-workings of the games. Rather than events just occurring, or fires miraculously starting, we see just how much control the Capitol and the Gamemakers – those in control of orchestrating the Hunger Games let by Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) have on what happens within the arena. This is actually one of the better parts of the adaptation, as it provides relief to what could have been an hour of Katniss hiding in shrubs.
The film is over two hours long, which is LONG, and the beginning is unfortunately pretty weak. They cram quite a lot of relationships into the beginning (we’re supposed to care about Gale who has as much charm as an oak tree. And not a nice oak tree either, a really sullen one who we don’t care about). But once the Katniss and Peeta are sent into the capitol with the lead-up to the games, the film really picks up. From this point on the emotion and the pacing of the film really evens out, and became far more enjoyable.
A great adaptation of the first novel, however I think the script relies a bit too much on an assumption that the entire audience will have read the novels. I’m also really glad that Taylor Swift’s song plays somewhere near the end of the credits, so it’s really easy to leave the cinema before even having to endure a fate worse than Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games is out in cinemas now. See its trailer below.