Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” was one of the most highly anticipated book-to-movie adaptations since “Twilight” and “Harry Potter.” Its plot offers up the opportunity to create a daring and powerful on-screen story about government corruption and the dangers of glorifying violence in the media, with a little romance in the mix. Though the actors embody their roles with a precision that will please the film’s main audience — the young adult fans of the book series — the second half of the film rushes the story, minimizing the impact of the premise’s underlying themes.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in a dystopian future in which the U.S. is now called Panem. Every year, the Capitol forces a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each of the country’s 12 oppressed districts to fight to the death in a televised tournament.
Katniss, who volunteers as her district’s tribute in her sister’s place, soon finds that not only is she faced with the horrifying task of killing 23 other tributes to survive and get back to her family, but she also must give the viewers in the Capitol a good show in order to get sponsors to send her survival necessities during the Games.
Lawrence’s strong and feisty warrior-girl persona as Katniss will
delight fans of the book. However, on screen, she appears to fall easily for Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the male tribute from District 12, after realizing the viewers in the Capitol will support a good love story, which seems all too convenient in comparison to the situation’s realistic complexity in the book. In spite of this, Hutcherson’s portrayal of the good guy hopelessly in love will charm audiences. His willingness to do anything to save Katniss is sincere and tragic, culminating in a heart-melting scene in a cave where the two hold each other while Peeta heals from a life-threatening injury.
The first half of the film is devoted to the setup of the Games before the tributes are thrust into the battle, captivating viewers and staying true to the book. After the Games begin, however, the screenplay skims over crucial events in the story, lessening their impact and possibly creating confusion for viewers. For example, adorable Rue (Amandla Stenberg), the youngest tribute, becomes Katniss’ ally soon after the Games begin, but the bonding moments of their sisterly relationship are too brief, and viewers aren’t given enough time to establish an emotional connection to their relationship. Though the film has a 142-minute runtime, many important scenes flash by too quickly, making the film feel rushed.
The all-angle documentary style filming seems to be an attempt to mimic the way the Capitol televises the Games, following every move of each tribute. However, this clever connection between method and concept is negated by the overly shaky camera that changes angles so frequently that it may disorient the viewer. Yet the costumes and sets are captivating — full of color and wackiness in the Capitol and contrastingly earthy and rustic in the forest of the arena.
While the story is no doubt entertaining, “The Hunger Games” misses an opportunity to make a larger statement about society, one that director Gary Ross should have seized.
“The Hunger Games” was directed and written by Gary Ross.