By Tim Posada, 3/29/2012
It is difficult to avoid the many comparisons between “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight”: fantasy/sci-fi concept, love triangle and generally emotionless female leads who are irresistibly appealing to all who know them.
Alas, the similarities end rather quickly, especially in cinematic form, where leading lady, Katniss Everdeen (played by lovable rising star, Jennifer Lawrence), makes Bella look like little more than a weakling whose identity lies solely in her undead half. Based on the wildly popular book trilogy by Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” is the first real blockbuster of the year that is worthy of critical, fan and general audience attention.
It has been 74 years since the Capitol of Panem regained control of its 12 districts. But to maintain “peace,” the political regime implemented an annual event, the Hunger Games, where 24 teens (two from each district) are chosen at random to compete in gladiator-style games broadcast for all to view. Out of all the tributes, as they’re called, only one can leave alive, becoming each year’s Victor.
But something different occurs in District 12 when Katniss volunteers as Tribute to take the place of her sister, Primrose (Willow Shields). After only a few minutes of farewells, Katniss and the male Tribute, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), are off to the Capitol. The Tributes prepare with the aid of former D-12 Tribute Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Capitol locals, coordinator Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz). Add a potential love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale (Thor’s brother, Liam Hemsworth), Katniss’ hunting partner back in D-12, and the odds are not in Katniss’ favor to come out alive, or to at least please everyone.
For those unfamiliar with the novel, this might be one of the best examples of an adaptation. While other books might be too long, “The Hunger Games” is short enough to almost get it all in. Of course, it’s near impossible to include everything, and some things just don’t work on screen. If you’re really that bummed, just ask yourself if special effects or a visual narrative could effectively illustrate certain things that were left out. The film captures primary elements of the novel and even adds more to a story that focuses solely on Katniss’ point of view. As a fan, it’s refreshing to not know what’ll happen next, but observe how it all goes down on screen.
I’m sure many would rave about the originality of the concept, but “The Hunger Games” is really a combination of “A Brave New World” and “Lord of the Flies” –– what happens when a few of Dante’s pals, gluttony and vanity, gang up on impoverished citizens for entertainment’s sake. The concept also owes much to a Japanese cult favorite book-turned-film “Battle Royale”, where a degenerate junior high class has two days to battle, and if more than one survives, the remaining students find themselves headless due to a rather explosive necklace.
Even though “The Hunger Games” is far from original, director Gary Ross effectively takes a science fiction concept and portrays Collins’ narrative world without falling prey to many current trappings of the genre: in a word, corniness. Since much of the film is set in the forest, the futurism of the film occurs in moderation through quick shots that expose this odd place, without overdoing it.
Ross is an interesting choice as director, with dramas “Pleasantville” and “Seabiscuit” to his name, and he knows how to work with actors and weave a dramatic tale. That’s the real strength of “The Hunger Games”: intense and spectacular when necessary, but not flashy for its own sake. This is what sci-fi can and should be, subtle, ripe with political significance and still fun.
And how could we discuss this film without mentioning our heroine’s phenomenal performance? Jennifer Lawrence made waves with an Oscar nomination in “Winter’s Bone”, and in her role as Mystique in “X-Men: First Class”, making her an easy sell in a potential/now realized blockbuster (now, with the third best domestic opening weekend ever). Much like Ree in “Winter’s Bone”, Lawrence’s Katniss seems to numbly take in her surroundings. She’s prone to emotional outbursts, but she must remain strong as the surrogate father in her family, earning money and pushing mother to keep going. Lawrence proves her worth center stage, and the next two films are sure to make us all cheer for the “girl who was on fire.”