With the new bundle of screaming fans and great marketing, it is hard to have not heard of the latest young adult book series making its way onto the big screen this year. Gary Ross’ latest film, “The Hunger Games,” is one that is not only accessible to fans of the novel, but to everyone who buys a ticket.
The film begins by placing us in Panem, a country split into 12 districts–each worse off than the last–and a metropolis named the Capitol. It is in a large arena within the Capitol that the Hunger Games occur annually to suppress the population and avoid an uprising against the government. These “games” pit one male and female tribute from each district against each other in a fight to the death, with only one survivor to enjoy riches and fame.
From the start, the tale follows Katniss Everdeen, a young woman from District 12, who volunteers herself for the “honor” of competing in the Games when her younger sister Primrose is selected in the lottery. With this impulsive decision, she sets off a series of events that will lead her into the battlefield against 23 others, including fellow tribute Peeta Mellark.
With only one tribute allowed to live, the odds are against Katniss, who comes from the poorest district and is not exactly a social butterfly. Tapping into her will to survive, she does whatever she can to put on a good show–if only to please the audiences that may give her a chance to become the winner.
Where many novel-to-screen translations fail, “The Hunger Games” succeeds by doing the smartest thing: hiring the author to cowrite and adapt the screenplay. Cowritten between director Ross, author Suzanne Collins and screenwriter Billy Ray, the story is divided in two parts of almost equal length for the film.
The first half presents the reaping, the lottery to select tributes, as well as the journey to the Capitol and the pre-Games training. The latter half is dedicated to everything that goes on within the arena, allowing audiences a firsthand look at the battlefield.
Even the minor changes from book to screenplay allow for a story that flows well and works as a stand-alone piece, while maintaining all the tension and character development from the text.
Ross’ direction is one that works just perfectly for the film. Instead of taking a tame and steady approach, the handheld camera work–that some might consider shaky–allows for a gritty atmosphere that really makes this dystopian society feel like it should.
Even in the arena, handheld camera movement adds to the reality of what it is like when you are fighting. It is something that perfectly captures the sense of urgency and fear in Katniss’ life, knowing that she could die without a moment’s notice.
Unfortunately, all is not perfect when it comes to the look of the film. While the work by cinematographer Tom Stern is as wonderful as can be, not much can be said about the shoddy CGI work. Whether it was a backdrop that looked far too out of place or some mutations that looked painfully fake, it was something that could and should have been improved.
Above all the killing, running and hiding that takes place in “The Hunger Games,” the film sports stellar performances from everyone in the cast. Jennifer Lawrence embodies Katniss with every expression and gesture she makes, while Josh Hutcherson charms us to death with his face and personality as Peeta.
The comic relief aspect of the movie comes in the form of Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci, who all play essential supporting characters in “The Hunger Games.” Just as essential is Cinna, Katniss’ costume designer and confidant, who is played tenderly by Lenny Kravitz.
Despite frequent comparisons to “Battle Royale,” “The Hunger Games” proves to be engaging and unique, finding a home among other great dystopian films. It is a well-crafted film adaptation that provides good mixture of action and drama that is laced with just the right amount of social commentary.
“The Hunger Games” released on March 23 and is currently showing in theaters everywhere.