The Hunger Games Review
Whether you're a fan of the novel or a complete newcomer, The Hunger Games is a triumph. Gary Ross’ adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ best-selling young adult novel is both incredibly faithful to the source material, yet not too strict to render it irrelevant. Instead his film smartly condenses aspects of the novel and adds elements that expand on the POV narrative to create a thoroughly satisfying whole. The concept of a society that pits its youth against each other in a fight to the death essentially for entertainment isn’t exactly fresh, but The Hunger Games succeeds and feels fresh thanks to the sheer level of detail and attention that has been paid to its source – right down to the costumes – and the excellent performances across the board from its cast.
Key to this is the phenomenal performance of Jennifer Lawrence in the central role of Katniss Everdeen who volunteers for the annual games after her younger sister is randomly chosen. Essentially an all-action version of her Oscar-nominated turn in Winter’s Bone, Lawrence commands the screen providing a heroine that everyone can root for and is also fully believable in Katniss’ moments of vulnerability, lending the film the dramatic heft it needs. Lawrence is ably supported by Josh Hutcherson as her fellow tribute Peeta Mellark, even if the romantic subplot is a touch rushed towards the end, and fantastic turns from the likes of Stanley Tucci as flamboyant TV presenter Caesar Flickerman and Elizabeth Banks as Katniss’ and Peter’s escort to the games Effie Trinket.
Alongside the pitch-perfect casting, Ross’ adaptation is faithful in the other areas that matter and his screenplay – co-written with Collins and Billy Ray – carefully chooses the key moments to include and the ones that can be altered. The build-up to the games, in particular, is condensed, yet not to the detriment of casual viewers, but the main incidents of the games – one character’s demise is possibly even more harrowing than on the page, even if you know it’s coming, and is the film’s stand-out sequence – are fully intact. Often these occur on screen exactly as you’d have pictured, helped by wonderful set and costume designs – by Philip Messina/Larry Dias and Judianna Makovsky respectively – that really capture the world of Panem, from the exuberant Capitol to the slums of District 12, as sharply as Collins’ vision on the page.
It’s not a word-for-word adaptation though, with certain aspects added that are entirely fresh to the film necessary to expand the world past Katniss’ viewpoint. They’re not all entirely successful – the cutaways to Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith (Toby Jones) commenting on the games sometimes jar, although are often necessary to reveal aspects of the story that we originally only discovered through Katniss’ thoughts in the novel – but generally are faithful to the spirit of the novel and enhance the film.
If anything, the one minor issue with the film comes from it being faithful to its source. The film’s ending is pretty much as it occurs on the page and could leave casual viewers – who don’t know how the trilogy progresses – with a feeling of ‘is that it?’ Even if it’s highly likely to be successful enough for sequels, it’s so designed with an outlook to the future that there are a lot of questions left unanswered and loose threads untied. Fortunately the rest of the film is strong enough to compensate with the main event particularly stunning; tension-filled and violent, it may be too much for young children – a neck break in particular is fairly shocking for a 12A – but for everyone else, the games are fantastically realised.
And that really is The Hunger Games’ main achievement: perfectly judged for its original fanbase as well as being supremely well made and involving enough for newcomers, it completely nails the balance between the two differing potential audiences, resulting in a film that is thrilling, compelling and thought provoking in equal measure. The world will be watching, so make sure you don’t get left behind.