‘The Hunger Games’ a spectacular adaptation
Let’s face it, Hollywood rarely succeeds in making a book-to-screen adaptation that lives up to the original. Even True Blood, one of my favorite shows, takes quite a few creative liberties with Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels. After reading (and totally loving) Suzanne Collins’ best-selling The Hunger Games, I was keeping my fingers crossed that the film version would live up to all the hype. Thankfully, director Garry Ross gives us a film that perfectly captures the essence of the original work.
The story takes place in the future country of Panem, built on the ruins of North America, and centers around Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who lives in one of twelve districts that surround the ultra-wealthy Capitol. Katniss’ district, District 12, is the poorest in the nation and our heroine is forced to break the law and go hunting with her friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) in the woods outside the district to feed her family. When we join the story, it’s the day of The Reaping, when one teenage boy and girl from each district are chosen as “Tributes” to participate in The Hunger Games, a barbaric spectacle in which the kids must fight to the death until only one is left standing. The event exists to show the government’s absolute power as well as being broadcast to the entire nation for entertainment. Think American Idol meets ancient gladiators. In a horrible turn of events, Katniss’ tender-hearted sister, Prim (Willow Shields) is chosen to compete. Certain that this will mean Prim’s death, Katniss volunteers to be District 12’s female Tribute. She will go up against their male tribute, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) and the other kids in the arena.
The barbaric and primitive nature of the event is offset by the high-tech entertainment value. The tributes are escorted to the Capitol where they train in fighting techniques and receive strategic advice from their advisors, previous winners of the games. District 12’s only winner is Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a drunken slob with no manners and seemingly no valuable information for Katniss and Peeta. The kids must also compete for sponsors, wealthy people who can spend their money sending food, medicine and other supplies to their tributes while in the games. In trying to court those deep-pocketed sponsors, the kids receive makeovers from stylists like Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and PR training before they go on to their interviews with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci).
Then it’s off to the games where Katniss must go up against the Career Tributes, kids from the wealthier districts who have trained their whole lives for the games and become deadly killing machines. She’s horrified when Peeta seems to have formed an alliance with the Careers and forms a partnership of her own with little Rue (Amandala Stenberg), a very clever twelve-year-old girl from District 11.
The brutal atmospher of the games is contrasted by the people at the Capitol who see this purely as entertainment, completely devaluing the lives of those competing. This attitude is perfectly captured by Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), whose utter disregard for the lives of Katniss and Peeta brings a twisted humor to the story. We also see this reflected in Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley), a Gamemaker who can throw twists at the kids to make the show more exciting.
As someone who’s watched her fair share of reality TV, I found the book and the film to be incredibly poignant, providing a great commentary to what our society finds entertaining. A show like CBS’ Big Brother is very Hunger Games-esque in that it locks its competitors in a space and forces them to go head to head (not to the death, but for a great sum of money) while audiences watch live and have the ability to vote for favorites to win prizes. Reality TV is all about creating characters and we see that as well in the film with Cinna branding Katniss the “Girl on Fire” and Peeta presenting a Romeo and Juliet storyline that might just save both of their lives.
The film also succeeds in creating a beautifully realized, visually rich world while carrying the dystopian heaviness of a story about kids forced to murder each other. Even when we laugh at one of Effie’s comments or roll our eyes at Caesar’s cavalier attitude for the games, we feel the underlying somberness of the entire situation. It’s truly rare for a film to succeed in being entertaining while maintaining those kind of dark undertones, doubly so for a film aimed at the PG-13 crowd, but The Hunger Games flawlessly navigates those waters.
The young a relatively unknown cast is very impressive. We identify with Katniss, Peeta and Rue, despise the cruelness of the Career Tributes and feel sympathy for the friends and relatives forced to watch their loved ones die on TV. Each actor completely embodies their character, which allows the viewer to be totally immersed in the world of the film.
When it comes to adaptations, Hollywood needs to follow The Hunger Games’s lead and focus on the overarching message of the original work. Sure, there are a few things that have been altered from the book, but the spirit of the story is there, and that’s what’s most important. Hopefully this kind of excellence will continue in the adaptations of the other two books in the trilogy, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.