In an unknown time in the future, North America is destroyed and replaced with an oppressive Capitol and 12 surrounding districts. This is the post-apocalyptic world of Panem, the setting of Suzanne Collins’s best selling trilogy and of the eponymous Hunger Games: a bloody battle between children, televised for the amusement of Capitol citizens. Every year, each district is forced to send a young boy and girl selected by lottery to the Hunger Games as punishment for the districts’ previous rebellion. In Director Gary Ross’s film adaptation, District 12’s Katniss Everdeen volunteers in her younger sister’s place and must struggle for survival in the brutal Hunger Games, in which the young tributes slaughter each other one by one until only one victor remains. Every minute during the Games is filled with suspense and a true sense of danger while the Capitol game-makers relentlessly throw challenges and obstacles at the tributes, such as fireballs and mutated animals.
Jennifer Lawrence excels in her superb portrayal of the down-to-earth, tough Katniss Everdeen, expressing her wide range of emotions, from excruciating anguish to dignified determination, deftly and genuinely with her facial expressions and her eyes. Lawrence is a versatile actress; she easily puts on a stern façade for Katniss’s defiance and completely breaks down at the death of a fellow tribute. Unfortunately, her co-stars are limited by their roles. Katniss’s co-tribute and eventual love interest, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), is watered down to the male equivalent of a ‘damsel in distress’ next to Katniss’s powerful heroine. His performance brings nothing new to the table: a storybook love interest with no heroic capabilities. There’s a lack of chemistry and passion between the two leads, despite their supposed long-standing connection in the novels. Though Katniss’s best friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is the third point in the book’s love triangle, Gale’s lack of screen time prevents him from having any dramatic impact.
Though the movie stays true to the novel in terms of story and dialogue, some major discrepancies, albeit ones not detrimental to the plot, are not likely to pass unnoticed by familiar viewers. To maintain its PG-13 rating, the film had to avoid the excessive amount of gore described in the book, and experienced fans may be dissatisfied with the film’s unfaithfulness to the graphic and vivid imagery of the tributes’ physical and psychological sufferings. The mental trauma and physical urgency of hunger were overlooked as well. Although the film is titled “The Hunger Games”, it’s impossible to capture onscreen Katniss’s desperate and hopeless cravings for food, which are repeatedly elaborated in the book. Despite its lengthy two-and-a-half hour runtime, the film still felt rushed; some moments of the film felt awkwardly unnecessary and other relationship-building scenes felt perplexingly abrupt.
The film provides powerful social commentary on government oppression, contrasting the horrifically poor and starving districts with the high-tech and lavish lives of the Capitol citizens. The citizens of the Capitol wear excessively colorful and flamboyant costumes and live in a technological and ostentatious metropolis while the workers in District 12 slave in coal mines and live in restrictive conditions reminiscent of internment camps. When Katniss travels from her home to the Capitol, she witnesses the citizens pampering and indulging themselves while people from the districts are dying from poverty and starvation, which brings to mind not just the social injustices of Ancient Rome, but the recent Occupy movement’s push for “the 99 percent.” The Hunger Games also satirically attacks the heartlessness of reality television, taking viewers behind the glimmering curtain of the Games to the horrifying, human, and gritty side of violence that the Capitol citizens take mindless pleasure from viewing. The film also illustrates an interesting concept of television stars blindly pleasing the audience, as Katniss must pander to the cameras by fabricating a dramatic love story with her fellow tribute, Peeta, in order to gain popularity and sympathy from sponsors.
The film actually closely adheres to the vivid details presented in the novel better than most other Hollywood movie adaptations, letting avid readers enjoy a thrilling and accurate visual accompaniment to the novels. However, the film is still very enjoyable for those who have not read the series, as the plot is captivating and clearly explained. The Hunger Games excels as film adaptation and an enthralling teen flick filled with heart-racing action, suspense, and sentiment. “May the odds” of enjoying this film, as the Capitol gamemakers are so fond of saying, “be ever in your favor.”