'Hunger Games' caters to fans
Films based on books are always tricky.
Can a filmmaker create a movie that conveys his or her creative vision while honoring the source material?
Will the legions of die-hard fans agree? That depends. Some are so invested in the book and, in turn, the vision in their mind’s eye that even the most minute of changes can ruin their experience.
This doesn’t seem to be the case with “The Hunger Games,” the big-screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ exceptionally popular young-adult novel.
Director Gary Ross (“Pleasantville”) co-wrote the screenplay with Collins and co-writer Billy Ray (“State of Play”), ensuring that any changes came with the author’s blessing.
For the uninitiated, those who haven’t read Collins’ trilogy, “The Hunger Games” is a smartly shot, well-acted action-thriller. For those who’ve read and adore the series, the film is an emotionally charged, well-acted tour de force.
It has an inherent duality, as if fans and newcomers are each watching an entirely different movie.
Newcomers will like it, but fans of the series will love it, seeing their favorite characters come to life, knowing even the most minor players’ backstories, eager to see if Ross’s vision matches their own.
I, having not read the books, envisioned “The Running Man” meets “Surviving the Game” meets “Twilight,” and, while Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ice-T and that Kristen Stewart mannequin were nowhere to be found, I found an intriguing – if not somewhat familiar – narrative in their place.
The story follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, “Winter’s Bone”), a 16-year-old hunter living in a dystopian future, where North America, as we know it, no longer exists. Instead, there’s Panem, a totalitarian airline, err, country divided into 12 specialized districts, ruled by the affluent, extravagant and ultra-modern Capitol.
As a form of retribution for a nearly century-old uprising, the districts and their impoverished denizens must partake, per the Capitol’s order, in a sinister – and deadly – reality television event called “The Hunger Games.”
The games require each district to offer, via lottery, two children between the ages of 12 and 18 as tributes, all of whom must fight to the death in a public arena until only one’s left standing.
To the Capitol-dwellers, the games are an exciting and entertaining television event, while the districts dread the tradition and resent the fact they’re forced to watch it.
When Katniss’s sister, 12-year-old Primrose (Willow Shields, “Beyond the Blackboard”), has her name drawn during her first lottery, Katniss volunteers as tribute in her stead.
She and fellow district tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, “The Kids Are All Right”) are promptly whisked to the Capitol, where they’re cheered by the crowds, treated like celebrities and given all the comforts luxury can afford.
But, like almost all of the tributes, it’s short-lived. By the time their mini-holiday’s at an end, the contestants have been trained not only to fight and survive in the wild, but to pander to rich sponsors, who can deliver life-saving “care packages” during the battle royale.
However, they’ll need more than care packages if they’re to survive. Katniss and Peeta seek to somehow beat the game on their own terms, which, if successful, could altogether change the rules – and not just those of the Hunger Games.
Lawrence is stellar as Katniss, further establishing her reputation as one of Hollywood’s brightest young talents. Woody Harrelson (“Rampart”) continues to impress, this time as Katniss’s often-drunk but well-meaning mentor, while Stanley Tucci (“Easy A”) gleefully chews up the scenery as an über-famous TV personality.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of scenery to go around. “The Hunger Games” hits its mark with an incredibly atmospheric set design that leaves viewers immersed all throughout.
But oftentimes, “The Hunger Games” seems like a companion piece to the book, as if Ross and company are relying on readers’ memories to evoke emotion during certain scenes. As a result, it lacks the depth and emotion that series fans innately bring from their reading room.
In this case, the odds seem ever in their favor.
“The Hunger Games,” rated PG-13 for intense violent thematic material and disturbing images, all involving teens, is playing at Regal Cinema in Boone and the Parkway Twin in West Jefferson. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.