“The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins, is a book with one of those premises that makes you stop for a moment and think: “Wow, that’s kind of messed up.”
In the not-too-distant future, North America has been split up into 12 districts. Two teenagers between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen at random from each district — one boy and one girl — to compete in The Hunger Games, a yearly competition that puts them in a massive arena to fight to the death until one remains.
The games serve as a reminder of a failed uprising of the districts against the tight grip of the government and also as entertainment: It’s televised for all to see. That’s dark stuff.
The film adaptation, directed by Gary Ross (“Big”) has a slick, polished look and is skillfully made. The direction is competent, and the acting is first-rate. It moves at a swift but comfortable pace, considering all the ground it has to cover.
The script by Ross, Collins and Billy Ray stays faithful to the novel wholeheartedly. Certain parts are cut down, and some miniscule things are either changed or left out. There are a few small scenes added, mostly talking scenes that provide explanation (the novel is in first-person and, therefore, has a lot of inner monologue), but overall, it’s the same story. We get to see all the kid-killing carnage the book had.
The story revolves around Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old girl from District 12 who, to prevent her younger sister Prim from competing, volunteers and, along with the selected boy, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), is sent off to the capitol, where they get to live in the lap of luxury.
Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) mentors the team. He is one of the only people from District 12 to win in the past. Since it is a TV show, they also need to make a good impression with the game-makers and people who can give them food and supplies during the game, which is key to surviving.
The most disturbing aspect of the film is the premise these kids would kill each other for sport. They are forced from their homes, fed, cleaned and done up in nice outfits to make themselves appealing, like pigs to the slaughter. And all the while, it’s televised, where people take bets on who will win and who will die.
And, yet, more brutality could have been shown. The movie is dark to a certain extent, but the reality of the situation feels glossed over. For how twisted the premise is, the movie doesn’t feel that raw. It has so much ground to cover that the harshness and viciousness seem downplayed.
For example, in the book, when the games start, Katniss has trouble finding food and water, and it takes her a little while to get her footing. But in the movie, it goes over that fairly quickly, trying to get to the next plot point. It moves so fast that one wishes it would just slow down and emphasize the sheer miserableness and paranoia that I imagine anyone in that situation would face.
Now, I’m fully aware that the producers of this movie don’t want to make it too dark and gloomy: They want to adapt the other two books in the trilogy so they don’t want to scare people away. But the story is dark and disturbing, and showing that to its full extent would have given the movie more impact as opposed to just being a franchise starter.
Even so, the movie still works for the most part. The first half, consisting of setup and preparation for the games, is paced extremely well, while The Hunger Games sequences are exciting and tense.
Lawrence delivers another commanding and confident performance. Katniss is brave, resilient and can fend for herself, and Lawrence can do all that with ease. Along with Hutcherson, the two make you care what happens to them.
Meanwhile, the supporting players like Harrelson and Stanley Tucci (as Caeser Flickman, the master of ceremonies) have fun with their extravagant characters. Film franchises seem to bring the best out of well-known actors, much like the “Harry Potter” movies.
In the end, “The Hunger Games” delivers a movie that fans of the book series will enjoy and provides solid entertainment for everyone else. My only hope is that the second movie will be even darker because, whether it’s a low-budget exploitation film or a high-budget Hollywood picture, kids fighting each other to the death is a disturbing concept that should demand a little more thought.