As penance for an ancient uprising, the people of Panem are forced to take part in the annual Hunger Games. Each person between the ages of 12 and 18 are entered into a draw and those unlucky enough to be called must fight to the death until just one is left standing. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take part in the games to save her 12-year-old sister from the arena. Katniss must use her wits and skills to survive the Capitol and the Games.
There has been much talk about The Hunger Games, and it is one of the most anticipated films of 2012. The dystopian world laid out by Suzanne Collins in the books captured readers around the world so it really was only a matter of time before the story was brought to the big screen. The story feels like a mix of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Battle Royale and any reality show you can think of, which is a clever idea but it doesn’t always work on screen.
Jennifer Lawrence carries the film as our heroine Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence makes Katniss real and relatable; her no-nonsense attitude comes from years of having to fend for her family, and the life of the Capitol seems opulent and silly to her. Lawrence really comes into her own once she enters the arena for the Games proper and cleverly mixes hunting, fear and heartbreak throughout her performance. Josh Hutcherson plays Katniss’s fellow Tribute – and eventual love interest – Peeta, and rounds out the character into a charming and gentle young man, Woody Harrelson doesn’t stretch himself much as the drunk (as opposed to alcoholic as he is played in the books) Haymitch. In fact, many of the adult actors are left playing one note as they are given fantastic costumes, but not a whole lot to do; this goes for Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley and Donald Sutherland. This is very much Katniss’s story and the film is obviously gearing up for a sequel where the adults will be given a lot more to do. That said, there is a lot more context and back story given here than in the book, and the consequences of Katniss’s actions are more immediate than on the page.
Issues arise throughout the film, the most obvious being the use of shaky camera work. This serves to slightly disorientate and within moments of the opening scene the audience could be begging for a wide shot just for some visual stability. The sets are mostly well realised, but when the seams show, they show big; there are background shots that are obviously tacked on and the fire drenched chariot sequence looks horrifically shoddy.
What worked, however, was the inclusion of more action outside the arena. In the book, once Katniss goes into the Games, there is no mention of her impact in the outside world. On screen, however, there are great touches such as the Games Master controlling the action in the arena and the reaction of the people of District 11 when their Tribute’s alliance with Katniss is cruelly cut short. There are also hints at the love triangle to come with plenty of reaction shots from District 12 as Katniss advances through the arena.
The universe of The Hunger Games is an expansive and complex one and one that was always going to be difficult to bring to the big screen. Most of the changes from the book are done for the sake of making the story cinematic; the subtle is mostly replaced with the overt, but this works. The direction is bland at times which is frustrating, especially seeing as many of the characters – and the inevitable violence – is toned down for the sake of pace and grabbing a wider audience. In all, however, The Hunger Games is a decent adaptation of an interesting book. It is refreshing to see a female teenage protagonist who is able to stand on her own two feet and not hang around waiting for her sparkly vampiric boyfriend to save her. The Hunger Games is a lot of fun and, while it has its issues, sets the scene for the sequel, Catching Fire, which hits cinemas in 2013.