If you’ve ever gone to see a movie based on a really good book, you’ll know what I mean when I talk about the feeling. You’ll be sitting there, in the darkened theatre, just waiting for the opening credits to roll out and you’ll get the feeling. The feeling that seeing the movie might be a mistake, that what you see on the screen will ruin what you saw in your imagination when you were reading the books and that nothing will ever be the same again.
The feeling makes me anxious. It’s the fear that an incredible book will be butchered by the makers of the film. It happened with the movie adaptation of Christopher Paolini’s riveting bestseller, Eragon; the film scored a measly 16 per cent on RottenTomatoes.com. Even though the feeling is disconcerting, you can rest easy knowing that it’ll be over soon; either it will pass with relief or be realized with disappointment. As soon as the title is out of the way and the opening scenes are rolling, you’ll know whether the film is or isn’t going to live up to the book.
The first Harry Potter film quashed the feeling for me in a matter of minutes — with relief. With The Hunger Games, I started breathing easier after about 30 seconds.
The Hunger Games, written by Suzanne Collins, is the story of Katniss Everdeen of District 12. The story is set in the future. The country of Panem, consisting of twelve districts and the Capitol, exists where North America once was. Once, the districts had rebelled against the Capitol and a revolution had begun only to end when the Capitol completely demolished District 13. Twelve districts remained and each year, as a reminder of the Capitol’s total control over the citizens of Panem, a reaping is held in each district. Names of citizens between the ages of 12 and 18 must be entered for the reaping.
A boy and a girl “Tribute” from each district will be chosen then ushered off to the Capitol to participate in the Hunger Games. The 24 teens are placed in an arena manufactured by the Capitol and must fight to the death until only one remains. The entire thing is televised for all of Panem, kind of like a brutal reality show that serves as a reminder of the power of the Capitol. The book series is a trilogy, so this year’s Hunger Games is set to be followed by Catching Fire, with a release date of late 2013, and Mockingjay following that.
The story of the 12 Districts of Panem is translated from page to screen almost flawlessly and with a sense of originality. I’m so thankful that Suzanne Collins, the author of the series, helped write the screenplay and served as executive producer and that Gary Ross, the director, didn’t insist on any major changes for the film version. The plot of the book is great just the way it is — simple enough that huge chunks don’t have to be taken out or smoothed over, while being engaging enough for the filmmakers to avoid adding material. Even though following Collins’s original plotline makes for a bit of a longer movie, at two hours and twelve minutes, it’s completely worth it. Even if you haven’t read the books, this film should be easy to follow.
There’s also something to be said for the casting in this film. With the amount of attention the books had already garnered, and with people’s expectations about the characters built up in their minds, casting could have gone horribly wrong. In my mind, however, every one of the actors on screen fits perfectly with their character and in the context of the plot. I was a little nervous about Josh Hutcherson as Peeta (he’s not blond!) but on screen, the fit is undeniable. Everyone is used to seeing Hutcherson in movies aimed more toward kids and tweens than an adult audience, like Journey to the Center of the Earth, Zathura and RV. Seeing him in this role is refreshing, and he pulls it off really well. Liam Hemsworth as Gale is another success for the casting crew. He’s tall, dark, gorgeous and, while he doesn’t have a huge role to play in the first film, will surely live up to expectations when it comes time to play a more central role in the second and third films.
The real cherry on top, though, is Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence manages to play the part her own, while still embodying everything that the character is in the books.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone who likes the books will have anything bad to say about this film. For me, the movie had everything a film adaptation should have. The casting was excellent, the sets and costumes were spot on without seeming over-the-top and the plotline was closer to that of the books than I would have hoped. Instead of dominating the idea of the story, The Hunger Games recognizes the genius of Suzanne Collins and leaves the brilliance of the story alone, working only to give it an appearance that multiple generations can enjoy. The Hunger Games is a film that not only meets but also exceeds expectations.