The Harry Potter and Twilight series are two of the most successful book to film adaptations ever, and now The Hunger Games can be added to that list. In fact – at least domestically – The Hunger Games has earned more than any of the individual Potter or Twilight films, which is quite an impressive feat. Still, these are different stories told in different genres for different audiences, and that’s where The Hunger Games has that extra appeal.
While there’s no denying the worldwide popularity of the Harry Potter series, not everyone is excited by the idea of a boy wizard trying to find his way in the world; however, when there are 24 teenagers fighting to the death in an arena where only one can survive, that opens up a lot more doors in terms of broad appeal. That may sound somewhat sadistic, but it’s true. It’s a scenario where the viewer is able to put themselves in the shoes of the participants in this life or death situation without putting anything at risk. It’s a shock to the system to ask yourself, “What would I do in this situation?” even though as it’s shown multiple times throughout the film, you really don’t know until you’re there.
Yes, The Hunger Games has a different sort of subject matter, and because of that it’s able to appeal to both sexes equally. Boyfriends and husbands – or just guys in general – are able to go and see it because it’s cool and action packed; not just so they can please their significant other. And of course it appeals to women of all ages due to the incredibly strong female lead Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and her journey, as well as the love triangle that subtly, yet effectively, weaves its way into the story.
The story, based off the novel by Suzanne Collins (who co-wrote the screenplay alongside Gary Ross and Billy Ray), sees a nation divided into 12 districts, and the Capitol. Each year the Capitol selects a male and female between the ages of 12-18 to participate in the Hunger Games. The games are a battle to the death, which serves as a penance for each district to pay for their rebellious ways of the past, and out of the 24 teenagers, only one can be declared winner.
Now, I have not read the book, so I can’t do a comparison; however, I’ve heard that while there are minor complaints with how certain things were handled, overall this is a strong adaptation. For someone like me, I can assure you that the film is impressive, and story is easy enough to follow without having read the book.
While there are a few supporting and minor characters who suffer from lack of depth due to time constraints (and the fact that this simply isn’t a book), the writers hit the nail on the head for most, especially considering how much they had to work with in such a short period of time. And while you may not consider two hours and twenty minutes a short period of time, this movie sure makes it feel like it is.
The greatest character, and rightfully so, is Katniss. In a time where there is definitely a shortage of inspirational, strong-willed, heroines for young women to look up to, Katniss definitely helps fill the void. Her attitude and ability to handle herself in ever changing situations, along with her spirit and determination is something that younger females will hopefully take away from the film as well.
While talking about the violence in the film may be a bit pointless, simply due to the fact that odds are those who wanted to see the movie likely already have, I’ll still touch upon it for those who may be curious. Director Gary Ross does a fantastic job of using handheld camera motions, as well as quick edits to help cover up what would otherwise be some hardcore violence. These tricks make it so that the violence is shown in a more effective way, with sharp cutaways and reaction shots instead of being gratuitous. The film definitely earns its PG-13 rating, and younger kids may find it to be a bit much, but for the most part Ross does a fantastic job of making the story work without making the violence the central focus.
The casting for this film was remarkable, as there are so many great performances by a wide variety of characters. Lawrence is superb as Katniss, and really brings her strength and spirit to life on screen. Everything that makes Katniss great in this film is because of Lawrence, and that’s easy to see right from the start. Josh Hutcherson plays Peeta Mellark, the male tribute from District 12 (Katniss’ district). Peeta is also part of the love triangle that forms around Katniss, with the other interest being Gale Hawthorne (Thor’s younger brother, Liam Hemsworth), Katniss’ friend back home. Hutcherson does a good job here, and his chemistry with Lawrence works on the awkward, more unnatural level because that’s pretty much how their relationship is defined. Hemsworth plays a very minor role this time around, though I’ve heard Gale has a bigger part in the sequel, which is good because it looks like Hemsworth could make the character work well.
The supporting cast is also great, with my favourite character from the film (right up there with Katniss) being Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a former Hunger Games winner, and the mentor of Katniss and Peeta. Harrelson is just fun in the role, delivering some great lines while also playing the part of a mentor who knows his students have very little chance of winning perfectly. Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley and Donald Sutherland also play their roles incredibly well, with Tucci being a scene-stealer, Banks giving her character the theatrical feel needed, and Kravitz being awesome in his somewhat minor role. Sutherland is perfect as the evil leader, though his character likely won’t get a chance to truly shine until the sequel.
The Hunger Games is a great story about courage, strength, trust and honour, which just happens to take place inside an arena where teenagers must fight to the death. With a strong cast led by Lawrence, The Hunger Games is a movie that has something for everybody, and isn’t just for fans of the book.
The video transfer for this Blu-ray looks great. There are some fantastic colours used throughout, with vibrancy being highlighted when need be, and a more dramatic, toned down pallet transition when the story calls for it as well. The audio quality is flawless, with the soundtrack coming through beautifully, and the sound effects adding the perfect ambiance for the scenes without any music whatsoever.
The Blu-ray comes with a nice assortment of extras.
The World is Watching: Making The Hunger Games – This is the main attraction of all the special features found on this disc, and it comes in at just over two hours in length. This feature covers everything any fan of the film or book would want to know about the making-of process from pre-production all the way to post. Ross gives a huge amount of insight into how much he himself put into making sure this story was told right. For those who didn’t like the shaky cam (which was there for smart reasons) or thought that he left too much out of the film, watching this may change your mind as to how much Ross truly cared about the source material, and how now that it’s been confirmed he won’t be returning for the sequel, just how much of a void there is to fill in the director’s chair. This feature is incredibly thorough, and even if this were the only feature offered, it would still be seen as plenty, as everyone from the production crew, to the actors give their thoughts on the story and film.
Featurettes: There’s a section that holds six featurettes in it that cover other pieces that the above feature doesn’t focus on.
Game Maker: Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games Phenomenon – This featurette comes in at just over 14 minutes in length, and talks about the book, and how the idea came to Collins, as well as how the popularity of the book spread incredibly fast, and why it appeals to so many people. Like the above feature, Collins doesn’t actually speak, though those who know her speak on her behalf.
Letters from the Rose Garden – This featurette comes in at just over 9 minutes in length, and actually explains how the scenes with the President in the rose garden came about. It’s a very Donald Sutherland-centric piece, and tells the story about how he wrote a 3-page letter to Ross explaining the importance of roses to President Snow, and after reading the letter, Ross got the idea to add in those scenes.
Controlling the Games – This featurette comes in at just under 6 minutes in length, and shows how the control room where the games are run came to be.
A Conversation with Gary Ross and Elvis Mitchell – This featurette comes in at a bit under 15 minutes in length, and sees film critic Elvis Mitchell interviewing Ross about his work on the film, and why certain things were done the way they were.
Preparing for the Games: A Director’s Process (Blu-ray Exclusive) – This featurette comes in at three minutes in length and basically touches on Ross moving from writing the screenplay to actually working on the film.
Propaganda Film – This is the film shown during the Reaping, where President Snow talks about the history of the Hunger Games, and why they’re necessary.
Marketing Archive – This section holds all the production aspects of the film, such as the trailers, posters, and photo gallery for those interested in checking them out.
Unlike Twilight, The Hunger Games has an appeal that stretches beyond female audiences, and creates a world that, while being set in a dystopian future, remains realistic and eerily similar to our own. With a well told story filled with strong thematic elements, and a vibrant heroine that should serve as a role model for young women, The Hunger Games is a film that has something for everyone, and shouldn’t be missed.
Lionsgate presents The Hunger Games. Directed by: Gary Ross. Written by: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray. Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland. Running time: 142 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released: August 18, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.