I read The Hunger Games around this time a year ago. I distinctly remember thinking to myself, it was a pretty good read but it could have done without that 'Twilight nonsense' towards the end. Unfortunately for Suzanne Collins' story it was that memory which stayed imprinted in my mind up until the release of the film we see before us today. I'd like to apologise for such words, as it does such a disservice to a dark, thought provoking yet ultimately hopeful story. Thankfully under Gary Ross' slick direction The Hunger Games is one of those rare literary adaptations which is a fantastic experience on its own while staying enormously true to its source material.
Starring the consistently excellent Jennifer Lawrence, the film tells the story of a time, set far into the future, where North America is segregated into 12 Districts, each as progressively more underdeveloped than the last. By ritual, as a way to keep this fragile peace between the districts, each zone is required to enter two teenagers into the annual Hunger Games - a no holds barred, survival contest where the last person alive wins...yes pretty much exactly like that Japanese film from 2000, Battle Royale. So up comes young Katniss Evergreen from the terribly run-down mining zone, District 12, as she bids to survive so she can return to her family.
One of the reasons The Hunger Games gets unfairly compared to Twilight is because of a minor sub-plot of the inner conflict Katniss has in regards to her feelings for her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and her Hunger Games partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) - neither of which are a vampire or a werewolf, while on the subject. However where the film version of The Hunger Games triumphs over Twilight's is Lawrence's portrayal of Katniss is strong, compassionate, independent and ultimately very likeable and accessible to all the audience, not just lovesick 15 year old girls.
Truth be told, Lawrence's role wasn't a million miles removed from her stunning breakout, Oscar-nominated, performance in the chilling Winter's Bone. It was never the need for glory which willed Katniss on. It was the hope she'd see her sister again, be there for her family. Amongst the bleak, dystopian, backdrop it paints quite a sweet, humanistic, story.
The supporting performances were tremendous. Josh Hutcherson's Peeta was this plucky, likeable, underdog who you can't really help but feel for as the film progresses. Elizabeth Banks' visually bonkers, yet emotionally suppressed, Effie Trinket was seemingly ripped straight from the pages of Collins original story. Lenny Kravitz gave another assured performance as the humble stylist to Katniss, Cinna. Donald Sutherland was particularly menacing as the ruthless President Snow and definitely sets his role up to be bigger and more sinister in the planned sequels. Special mention must go to Woody Harrelson as Katniss' mentor Haymitch, just because y'know...he's Woody Harrelson. The excellent casting choices just added this undeniable weight of creditability to an already smart, emotional, and at times very much epic sci-fi adventure.
The other children featured in The Hunger Games were sparsely used in comparison but the few who were used to the same effect as they were in the novel were brilliant. Special mention must go to the sickeningly innocent Amandla Stenberg as Pew from District 11. She has the good fortune of probably sharing the most emotional driven scene in the entire film along with Lawrence, and bound to be the cause of a few tears shed in cinemas in the coming weeks.
I can't stress enough how accomplished an effort this was from director, Gary Ross. The world he created from the pages of Collins was such a visual treat. He must also be commented for the way he handled the violence which is rife in the books. Some might see it as a cop out when you compare it next to the ultra-violent daftness of Battle Royale, but the key difference lies in the story telling. The Hunger Games was never about watching kids kill each other for two hours, it was simply about a girl who would do anything to get home to her family. There's something very human in that, and Ross was smart to bring that to the forefront of the whole experience.
As well as the stunning set designs and smart use of computer generated effects the sombre tones and earthly sounds of James Newton Howard's emotive score was mighty. Definitely worth listening to on its own but you'll never quite recreate some of the film's best scenes unless you're watching it on the biggest screen you can find.
A bold, engrossing, smart and even at times epic piece of film-making on a somewhat modest budget compared to some of its peers. The dystopian setting aside, the film is carried beautifully by another sincerely brilliant performance from Jennifer Lawrence. If you want a bunch of kids brutally killing each other go watch the brilliant Battle Royale, but if you want a film which tells an accessible story full of heart, you'll be hard pressed to find a better film in the cinema this year than The Hunger Games. Seriously - and in many ways surprisingly - it's worth your time.
The Hunger Games is in cinemas everywhere now.