The Hunger Games had the potential to be a really bad film. However, author Suzanne Collins co-wrote and produced the film with director and co-writer Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville), and the two have walked a smart line through the usual Hollywood pitfalls. Fans of Collins’ novels will be reassured that the co-writers have managed to avoid a schmaltzy love story between heroine Katniss and Peeta, too great a reliance on the reality show-style voiceover, or a stroppy Katniss. Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, X-Men: First Class) carries the film with absolute force of personality in a star turn as Katniss.
Ross and Collins have been careful to maintain the aspects of Katniss that make her at times an unsympathetic character, such as the expediency of her relationship with Peeta, which make her a much better-rounded and more interesting character. Lawrence avoids the usual pitfall of playing a strong girl – her Katniss manages to convey a tough character on edge, rather than a teenager in a tantrum. Josh Hutcherson (Journey to the Centre of the Earth) puts in a rather lacklustre performance in comparison, but as most of his screen-time includes the scene-stealing Lawrence, this is much less noticeable.
Ross is to be applauded for his subtle hand with the voiceover element. He is careful to use it only occasionally, to provide necessary background information. Instead, the use of the game-makers’ giant computerised board to move different threats into place like counters is allowed to stand alone, without additional commentary. Similarly, he allows the vacuous smiles on the faces of the Capitol viewers, and their French Revolution-styled appearance, to convey the simmering disconnect between their pleasure-hungry lives and the lives of the district people and to hint at the revolution to come.
The only aspect of the novel that is really lost in translation to celluloid is, in fact, the hunger. Given that everyone is supposedly starving and the rest of the cast in District 12 are dressed in pseudo-1940s rags, styling Lawrence in Ralph Lauren-esque skin-tight breeches, knee boots and fitted leather jacket to romp around in the woods with Liam Hemsworth (Gale) struck me as a bizarre mis-step. Considering the hand-to-mouth survival necessity of their hunting trips, at least in the book, they act like lovestruck teenagers skipping around a country park. Later, although Katniss tells Gale not to let her sister and mother starve, both she and Peeta ignore the profusion of cakes in the train car, and the scene in the novel where they are overcome by the sight of so much food all in one place is left out. Likewise, Katniss’ advantage in being able to hunt food in the arena is less clear, as the sense of imminent starvation in the arena is rather lacking. This doesn’t really affect the excellent pacing of this film, but it does leave you wondering how the later books will be translated to film, given their emphasis on the dangerous contrast between Capitol/aristocracy and the districts/peasantry.
4 out of 5 stars.
Do say: how refreshing to see a normal-sized girl as a strong role model for teenagers.
Don’t say: Jennifer Lawrence has quite a big bum for a starving girl.