As Hollywood searches for its next teen-friendly blockbuster franchise now that the Harry Potter adaptions are complete and the Twilight saga will draw to a close later this year, all eyes are on The Hunger Games.
Who’s in it: Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss), Josh Hutcherson (Peeta), Liam Hemsworth (Gale), Stanley Tucci (Caesar Flickerman), Woody Harrelson (Haymitch), Elizabeth Banks (Effie), Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane), Donald Sutherland (President Snow), and Lenny Kravitz (Cinna)
What’s it about: It’s based on the best-selling novel (the first in a trilogy) by Suzanne Collins about a future version of North America, renamed Panem, that’s ruled by the oppressive Capitol. Each year Panem’s twelve districts must send one boy and one girl (“tributes”) to the Hunger Games—a fight-to-the-death tournament set in a televised arena controlled by reality-TV masterminds. Think “Survivor for kids” . . . only with straight-up murder replacing game elimination.
When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister is chosen for the Games, Katniss volunteers in her place and then must leave behind her family and best friend Gale in order to face almost-certain death. With Katniss from District 12 is the soft-spoken Peeta, who’s harbored a secret crush on her for years. Unfortunately, only one of them can make it out of the Games alive.
What’s good: Jennifer Lawrence rocked it in the lead role. That probably won’t surprise anyone familiar with her work, though. What I wasn’t expecting to like so much was Stanley Tucci’s turn as the flamboyant, is-he-in-on-the-ridiculousness-of-it-all-or-isn’t-he Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman. He stole every scene he was in and provided much-needed levity, as did Woody Harrelson, who plays Katniss and Peeta’s drunken mentor and long-ago Games champion Haymitch. Haymitch’s sobering-up was accelerated in the film version, but served to make his character (and his motivations) all the more intriguing. I also applaud the expanded role that Wes Bentley’s game-master Seneca Crane enjoyed. When Gale suggests to Katniss that the Games would come to an end if everyone simply stopped tuning in year after year (can we all try this for Keeping Up with the Kardashians, please?), Crane’s genius and utter detachment as he throws increasingly deadly obstacles into the tributes’ paths explain why that will never happen. This man knows how to produce great entertainment. Even if 23 kids have to die in the process. (On that note, I felt the comes-with-the-territory violence was handled well, given the fact that there was NO WAY this film was going to be shot with anything other than a PG-13 rating in mind by director Gary Ross.)
What could’ve been better: Fans of the book (such as myself) may be disappointed that parts of the story didn’t translate well onto the screen. For example, readers of the novel are privy to Katniss’s internal dialogue and are therefore aware that the “star-crossed lovers” act she engages in with Peeta is all for show in an attempt to earn air-dropped survival gifts from wealthy Capitol “sponsors.” But in the film that’s not clear at all. I also thought the sci-fi elements of the book were lacking in the movie—the”future worldliness” and “ooh, ahh” factor of the various manmade creatures and traps in the battle arena were almost completely lost.
Did this review make you hungry (get it?) for films adapted from books? Then look no further than these Redbox movies: