The Hunger Games is set in the country of Panem where the countries of North America once existed. Capitol, it’s surrealistic modern metropolis, rules all the 12 districts that the country consists of.
Every year, one teenage boy and girl are selected from each district to fight to the death. Katniss Everdeen, who usually spends her days hunting with her friend Gale to survive in the poor District 12, volunteers as a Tribute instead of her beloved younger sister Primrose, who was originally selected. The unlucky boy is Peeta Mellark, who once saved Katniss from starving to death. Now they are supposed to fight against each other among two dozen Tributes, some of which were trained for this occasion since early childhood.
The film directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville) is based on the 2008 bestseller The Hunger Games, which is the first part of the trilogy with the same name, written by Suzanne Collins. It’s not easy to reduce a book so it still makes sense as a film and still tells the story effectively. That’s why it’s probably a good thing that both Gary Ross and Suzanne Collins participated in writing the screenplay. They managed to keep it coherent, with only some minor flaws.
At the beginning of the film, Katniss and Gale are talking about how many times their names are going to be in the drum during the draw. If you haven’t read the book there is no way of knowing how the system of selecting the Tributes works – which is a pity because it illustrates the situation in District 12 well. Without that, there is really no point in showing this dialog in the movie at all, because it’s not crucial for anything else.
What they didn’t manage to do is surprising anyone who have read the book. This is notable, especially in those parts where the book is very vivid and dramatic. For example the scene where Katniss and Peeta present themselves ‘dressed in fire’ don’t look as extraordinary as they should. This is the scene where they surprise those who didn’t even pay attention to District 12 for the first time. Maybe it’s caused by all the other crazy costumes, but on the screen, it wasn’t that exciting.
Having the author working on the screenplay and trying to stay true to the book also backfired in pace of the film. All the major events of the plot and important dialogs seem rushed, while a lot of time is spent on things that don’t move the story anywhere. Gale’s character looks a bit redundant too, if you’d consider the film as an individual story, but of course he needs to be there for the rest of the trilogy.
Creators of The Hunger Games sure know how to spend almost $100 million. Great sets, outstanding costumes and Jenifer Lawrence looking almost too perfect in every shot. And that’s a compliment! Lots of sleepless nights and rendering hours in all kinds of post-production studios worth of special effects and the whole Hollywood high budget circus did their job well. The camera work though was way too shaky quite often, and the editing a bit too wild with unnecessarily many cuts. The music is fantastic, but it’s a pity that you get to enjoy most of it during the closing credits. It might have added to the atmosphere many times.
If I was to criticize The Hunger Games from a very personal point of view, I’d reproach the same things both in the book and the film. That is the fact that the whole idea of Hunger Games is a brilliant platform to point various flaws in our society today and in the future. To me it should be aimed more towards making people think, but then again few of this kind of production do.
You will find a lot of speculation online about how Hunger Games will be the new Twilight. I’m only familiar with the first part of the trilogy so far, so it’s unfair to judge, but the whole thing seems to be aimed at the same audience.