Based on the first of author Suzanne Collins’ wildly successful Hunger Games trilogy, Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games (2012) takes an almighty swing at the ‘young adult’ audience in an attempt to capture some of that Twilight magic at the box office. Combining a glittering array of new talent with a wealth of more established actors, the cast includes Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Elizabeth Banks.
Ross’ film takes place some time in the future, in a country divided into 12 isolated districts which are enslaved to the wealthy, decadent Capitol. After a failed rebellion, the districts face a yearly reminder of the power of the Capitol in the form of the ‘Hunger Games’ – thus every year, the names of those aged 12-18 are placed in a lottery, with one boy and one girl taken as tributes from each district and forced to participate in a televised fight to the death. The story centres on 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), who volunteers as a tribute when her younger sister Prim’s (Willow Shields) name is called. The audience then follow her as she travels to the capitol, trains for battle and finally enters the arena.
The Hunger Games is brilliantly paced from start to finish, allowing time to introduce a new world and establish the characters which populate it. This is absolutely crucial in ensuring that a wealth of vital information is communicated successfully and that characters and locations are given time to develop and resonate with audiences.
Early on in the film, a handful of quiet scenes are devoted to presenting Katniss as both hunter and carer. These are essential in communicating the character’s skills, motivations and nature, but are also just a few of the many sequences in which information is subtly shown rather than explicitly stated. Ultimately, the pacing is also one of the key contributors to the strength of audience involvement; eliciting strong emotions and enhancing the sustained tension of the piece.
The Hunger Games is impressively cast, beautifully styled, dynamically shot and powerfully edited. However, the standout feature of the film has to be its all encompassing success as an adaptation. Having cut through great swathes of material to the bare bones of the story, the screenwriters (including author Collins) know exactly how and when to deviate from the original tale in a way which makes the story work as a film whilst maintaining the essence of the original novel.
Some fans of the original work expressed concern over the 12A certificate, but they really shouldn’t have worried. Whilst the film could have been a lot more explicit, the horror of the games is successfully communicated through several violent sequences, an extremely threatening atmosphere and an implied brutality created by elements which are often as simple as the boom of cannon blast.
The Hunger Games is one of the rarest and most elusive of cinematic creatures. Captivating young and old, the film will succeed in enticing new audiences into its rich universe whilst providing fans of the original novel with an adaptation they can cherish forever.