You will be hard pressed to find many reviews of The Hunger Games that do not reference Paul Michael Glaserís The Running Man or Kinji Fukasakuís Battle Royale. Thatís because the best way to describe the new hotly anticipated film adapted from Suzanne Collinsí book is a Running Man meets Battle Royale if imagined by Tim Burton and filmed by Luc Besson.
For those of you that have yet to put down the Stephanie Myersí Twilight books and find a new teen-targeted source for your reading enjoyment, we can give you a brief oversight into the Hunger Games phenomena.
The book was written by Suzanne Collins and published in 2008. The book, written in first person, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world and centered around Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old girl who lives in what is labeled as District 12 (District 13 had Prawns so no one lives there ). Every year, their society plays what is known as The Hunger Games. Itís an event that takes one girl and one boy aged 12 to 18 from each of the twelve districts to battle each other in a televised event where the game ends only when there is but one living survivor. The participants are picked through a national lottery and are given two weeks of training in the deadly use of weaponry and some survival skills and then they are unleashed into a large outdoor terrain where they begin their fights to the death.
Katniss is played by Jennifer Lawrence (Winterís Bone). Katniss wasnít chosen through the lottery selection, but when her younger sisterís name was called, Katniss volunteered to take her place. Also selected from District 12 was Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Peeta hardly has the survival instincts of his District partner, but his biggest fault lies in the secret love he has suppressed for Katniss.
The Hunger Games opens with the lottery and then we are transported to the training facility and we get a glimpse into The Hunger Games television show which is emceed by Casear Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and produced by Seneca Crane played by Wes Bentley who seems to have visited the same barber responsible for Kenneth Brannaghís Dr. Arliss Loveless look in 1999ís Wild Wild West. Flickerman is the Ryan Seacrest of The Hunger Games and interviews each of the contestants before the show and offers viewers a running commentary and important tidbits of information once the games begin.
The obligatory introductions and character development through the training exercises seemed to drag a tad for someone like us who have not read the source material and we were all but ready to yell ĎGet on with it!í when the contestants are thrust into their wilderness environment.
As the games begin, contestants sprint towards a random gathering of weapons and supplies and through fast cuts and a dreamlike viewfinder we watch as more than a few of the 24 young contestants meet their early fate.
With an environment manipulated by the producers (a few fire balls here, a few rabid dog creatures there), the survivors are guided or persuaded into eventual confrontations and special help packages are parachuted in on occasion to help fuel rating grabbing drama. As offered in the synopsis, the event eventually concludes with the crowning of a District survivor.
The Hunger Games has been tracking with phenomenal interest. It is expected to open to $80-$100 million and the second and third installment of the Collinsí books have already been secured for inevitable sequels. We cannot comment on the transition from page to screen, but the reaction of the audience at our Press Screening of the film leads us to believe that it is a fairly faithful adaptation Ė one that will have tweens cheering, clapping and crying right to the final frame.
Most of the filmís success can be given to the incredible performance by Lawrence. Having appeared in last summerís X-Men: First Class, Lawrence is no stranger to big budget event films and her turn as Katniss hits every mark showing a range that expects fear, cunning, arrogance and confidence all to be exuded, sometimes within near minutes of each other. The film hinges on her performance and Lawrence excels at every reactionary challenge.
Much too can be heralded upon the supporting cast. Woody Harrelson has a key role as Haymitch Abernathy, a mentor to both Peeta and Katniss. Harrelson steals every scene he shares and his good guy/bad guy, drunkard/advisor were some of the highlights of the film. Elizabeth Banks, Tucci, Donald Sutherland and even Lenny Kravitz also provide effective work in supporting roles.
For a film that surrounded the killing of children by children, we were surprised at the lack of emotional attachment we had to any of the characters. The other children that are not named Katniss or Peeta are not well developed and an alliance of bad children hell bent on pooling resources to thin the herd were barely recognizable. The film also misses on key emotional pressure points. There is a scene where a key character dies (this is hardly a spoiler in a movie that boasts but one survivor) that resulted in a few sniffles from a handful of patrons encircled around us, but we believe this was likely due to a referencing in their minds to the description of the moment within the pages of the book rather than what was transpiring on screen. And a budding romance between the two leads lacked the Jack/Rose love amongst eminent disaster that James Cameron filmed so brilliantly with Titanic.
We can assume that the book was far more violent than the PG-13 moments portrayed on screen. Sure, 20+ children donít get to see the end credits of the film, but there is just a few splatterings of blood here and there with most of the violence actually occurring off-screen. We can also safely assume that some of the forgotten and seemingly without purpose characters of the film (including a love interest for Katniss back home) play out to their full potential in the upcoming sequels.
Still, The Hunger Games is truly an event film that delivers. And much like the world that was presented in 2010ís Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, we did find ourselves glued to our seats thinking that this was a humanity we had not seen before in a darkened theatre. It is definitely geared towards the younger crowd, but there is enough of a good story and convicted acting to keep audiences of all ages engrossed on the plight of the strong lead. This may not satisfy the appetites of those that grew up on Kinji Fukasakuís Battle Royale, but for what it was, it was highly enjoyable.