One of the most anticipated films of the year, it’s easy to think The Hunger Games – based on the teen novel of the same name- is going to be two and a half hours of teen angsting and unrequited love, with a side order of fighting.
It’s anything but. This film is dark, gloomy and tough on the emotions, and so, so good.
It follows, as the book does, the story of Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers to take part in the Hunger Games – a contest to the death – in place of her younger sister. Her fellow tribute from District 12, where she lives, is Peeta Mellark, who has been in love with the tough Katniss forever.
The book is told purely through Katniss’s eyes, as she battles to stay alive – both outside the arena and once she gets into the Hunger Games. The film adaptation gives viewers the chance to see the world around Katniss through their own eyes, meaning we get a wealth of detail the books can’t provide.
There are some chilling scenes with President Snow, the cruel ruler of Panem who has spent years suppressing those living in the outlying districts. And as opposed to just seeing what happens inside the arena when the 24 tributes are battling to the death, we also get to see the arena being created and decisions being taken as to what horror to inflict upon the children next, and how the privileged people of the Capitol bet on the contestants. All these scenes outside of what Katniss sees give the viewer a better understanding of the Hunger Games themselves, and make them even more horrifying than they already are.
Among the highlights which don’t feature in the book is a chilling scene at the end featuring gamesmaker Seneca Crane, which will leave you so cold you’ll need copious hot drinks, a wood-burning fire and three jumpers to warm up again.
The film is remarkably faithful to the book. There are a few changes made, and some extras included, but they all enhance the viewing experience. I can’t imagine even the most avid fan of the books being displeased with the film.
Unlike the book, the film is not told completely chronologically but this, coupled with some scenes shot using handheld cameras, add to the story, make it easier to understand for those not familiar with the book, and saves a lot of boring exposition.
It’s difficult to criticise The Hunger Games, but if I had to, I would say I wanted to see more of Haymitch, played by Woody Harrelson. He brings comedy and tragedy to the scenes he is in, with his manner and his speech. Should the next book be made into a film, and I have no doubt it will, I’d like him to feature more.
Like Harrelson as Haymitch, the other supporting roles are also filled well. I love Elizabeth Banks as the anything but ditzy (no matter how she looks) Effie, Liam Hemsworth is perfect as the hunky best friend Gale, who has a bigger role in the next two books in trilogy, while Lenny Kravitz is pretty good as Katniss’s unlikely confidant and stylist Cinna.
So to our leads, Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta.
Lawrence, while looking healthier than I imagined Katniss to look, embodied the character’s tough, no-nonsense, cynical side well. Throughout the first book Katniss’s aim is to stay alive for her family, and even after she has won she doesn’t let anyone else in. Lawrence plays this well, and even in the final scene in which Katniss features, we can see that cynicism and hunger to stay safe, and keep her family safe, in her eyes.
Hutcherson is a perfect Peeta, a mix of sweet, shy, brave, clever and, of course, love-struck. Hutcherson’s best scene is undoubtedly when he shares the stage with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), the two riffing off each other before the talk turns more serious. Hutcherson goes from fun and flirty to mournful in the blink of an eye, and it all seems so real. I’m definitely Team Peeta.
The Hunger Games, a bit like Katniss, was fearless, determined and hit you right where it hurt. I found myself laughing, tearing up, gasping in shock, jumping in fear (don’t have any drinks in your hand towards the end otherwise they’ll end up in your lap), and left wanting to see the next film straight away.
So, to end, there’s only one appropriate quote to use from The Hunger Games: “May the odds be ever in your favour.”
They certainly were when it came to this film.