The Hunger Games (3 1/2 out of 5 Stars)
Directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville, Dave)
Written by Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland, and Woody Harrelson
On September 14th 2008 author (and soon to be screenwriter) Suzanne Collins released her novel The Hunger Games about a society broken down into districts. Within this society once a year each district sends two tributes, one male and one female to the Capitol where they will compete against one another to the death until one tribute is left standing. The Games happen because once upon a time there was a District 13 that led a rebellion, which failed, and in order to remind the districts who was in charge the Capitol created the Hunger. Games for this and entertainment purposes.
The film focuses on Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) from District 12, the coal mining district. Katniss has her family including her mother and her younger sister she lovingly refers to as Prim. Katniss is the sole provider for her family because her father was killed in an explosion in a mine shaft. Katniss also has her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth).
The film starts on the day known as the reaping in District twelve, where Effie (Elizabeth Banks) who is an elaborately and differently dressed woman is there from the Capitol to select the boy and girl who will be picked as the tributes for this district. The film does not explain the selection process as in detail as it should, but your age increases the amount of times your name is placed within the bowl. Prim is the girl selected from District 12, but her sister Katniss volunteers in her place. The boy chosen for the district is Peeta Melark (Josh Hutcherson). The two are going to be mentored by Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) the only past winner from their district.
While the film is about the actual games, the film does not place the two tributes into the mix of the fight until about halfway through the film. Ross does a good job with his direction there is a lot of great camera work, and even though some may think he works too quickly, I think the pacing he sets for the film allows this to be an incredibly well made movie. Ross's work on the screenplay along with the books author Suzanne Collins allows for the film to be more faithful to the novel within a 2 1/2 hour window of time. Even without constant action the film does a great job telling a good story.
Like with any book to film adaptation there are some changes in the film. One of the major changes is how Katniss gets the Mockingjay pin. I think this may have been a bigger mistake, but with Collins helping in the screenwriting I am less concerned. I wish the film did a better job exploring the tributes from the the other districts. Viewers of the film who did not read the book may be confused about the different more prominent tributes, or the districts they represent. I would like to have learned more about the other tributes, in fact they did mention one of the more key tributes nick named Fox Face until the end of the film. This is a concept that is important in establishing the future concepts within the other novels.
The film and the book center around a larger social issues, the first film like the book does not get into the greater details. Ross aptly handled social issues within the film Pleasantville, and like within the first book this film lays the foundational context for unrest. As the viewer you see the Capitol is an evil bastion that attempts to control those outside of their world. In the film Donald Sutherland's President Snow (who is the first film much more than in the first book) lays the foundation for the dark agenda of the Capitol. I hope as the film series continues to explore the deeper context of the books, and the role each district plays rather than just quickly talking about them.
I also hope the book uses the solid acting to help make these films more watchable than most of the more recent book adaptations. The acting is top notch, Lawrence is always compelling, and she does a great job as Katniss; she sells every emotion. Woody Harrelson who plays Haymitch was another standout performer, and like Katniss Haymitch is one of the great characters in this film.
With any book to film adaptation there is always room for improvement, and there can always be some complaints, but this is a solid well made film. Even with its flaws succeeds. Many people will compare this film series to the Twilight saga, but there is no comparison. Each film is its own, and I have to say this film succeeds in every place the other does not. I was glued to my seat for the entire time, and drawn into the film, and as the credits rolled I was able to walk away feeling satisfied with the end result.