Hunger Games – More Star Wars than Twilight
One country with twelve separate districts—a nation literally divided to serve the interests of the few people who are in charge of everything. An empire, if you will, and when there’s an empire there is always the spark of a rebellion that just needs to find its fuse in order to explode into social upheaval. That spark is called Katniss Everdeen and The Hunger Games is an incredible and unflinchingly bleak adaptation of the world and characters from the best-selling book. It also showcases the beginning of Katniss’ journey from provider for her family in the poorest of the districts, District twelve, to reluctant but determined tribute in the Capitol of Panem’s annual Hunger Games event. The games themselves are both entertainment and punishment for a prior rebellion in which every district is required to offer up one boy and one girl aged 12-18 to participate in a bloodthirsty fight to the death with only one left standing. There really is no better way for a ruling group to prove they hold total control than to minimize the value of human life itself.
But if you’ve read the books already then you know all this set-up and you just want to know a few things, namely does the film do the book justice? That can be a complicated answer if it’s to be answered fairly. This may be an unpopular opinion but the film is so strong because of the fact that the story doesn’t rely purely on Katniss’ inner thoughts and actions like the book does. By expanding the scope of the story to scenes such as the ones where the actual behind the scenes of what goes into creating the challenges in the landscape of the virtual game board really build not only the oppressiveness of the Capitol on strangers but on its own people as well.
Seneca Crane, Head Gamesmaker, winds up coming out of the film as somewhat of a tragic character—he’s as much a victim of the machinations of people like President Snow as anyone in the games themselves. This is clearly setting up a real villain of the story so that Katniss will eventually have someone that she and the audience can be against. It’s also important to set up the rising tensions between the Capitol and its subjects so that the viewer will realize that just because the Games themselves have come and gone—this story is so far from over.
Take for example the aftermath of a certain tribute’s elimination from the Games. In the book it’s only a hypothetical reaction that Katniss imagines, but on film we get to see the straw break the camel’s back. We get to see rage and resistance as well as physical altercations between the citizens of the district and the peacekeepers who clearly struggle to maintain order. It is sequences like this which clearly illustrate the true themes of this story as well as prove which other genre property it more closely resembles than the one with sparkly rock monsters in it.
It’s a story of the start of a rebellion against an omnipotent empire that has the resources to police the people. A hero who comes from humble origins to bring this empire down by leading the rebellion—that sounds on the surface much more like Star Wars than it does Twilight. It just so happens to be a young woman who leads the charge and for some reason the media has a problem with that so they choose to marginalize the character of Katniss Everdeen and what she will go on to accomplish by constantly comparing her to the lead of a franchise that doesn’t hold the same amount of significance that The Hunger Games may one day hold for future generations. Of course, the character is only as good as the writing and as the person who plays them, fortunately Jennifer Lawrence embodies Katniss fully with such tenacity, courage, and ultimately heart that her portrayal is already being considered iconic to many.
Before anyone chimes in with protests of, ‘but she’s in a love triangle plot so her story isn’t worth being compared to Star Wars’ let’s not sit here and act like before her relation to Luke was known that people didn’t wonder if Leia would end up with Luke or with Han. Love in dystopian worlds can be a representation of hope—the very thing President Snow says is more dangerous than fear for a society to be exposed to.
Lesser movies would’ve have demanded that Peeta and Katniss be clearly together by film’s end but their story leaves off as vaguely as it does in the book—though the book does have the added advantage of being very clear that Katniss believes the romance angle is being used to foster an emotional connection with the audience so that they’ll get the gifts from sponsors that are needed to survive. The book truly doesn’t get enough credit for this clever turn, at least in the first of the series, for using the concepts of young love as a means of manipulating the people in a way the Capitol can barely control. Katniss is no boy-crazy young woman : she knows this is smart strategy to play up for the sake of the silly citizens of the Capitol who fawn and coo over their fabricated tragic love story.
Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta doesn’t get as many chances to shine as Lawrence does, but he takes what few moments he gets and plays them up well. Specifically the interview between Peeta and Caesar Flickerman is a true highlight showing off a natural humor and charm that shows why this boy with the bread is an interesting match for Katniss. Other highlights of the film are the aforementioned Flickerman who is wonderfully embodied by Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks brings so much to Effie Trinket not the least valuable of which would be moments of humor to the overall dark tone of the film. Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, who admittedly I had the most doubts about, turned out a wonderful performance with a character that has to handle some of the more emotional moments with Katniss (outside of the scenes with her family which are devastatingly heartbreaking and affecting) before she’s thrown into the fray.
One of the main criticisms of the film would probably be that when the Games themselves begin they’re treated in a way that doesn’t allow for much surprise unlike the rest of the movie. It’s all about hitting all the main points of each part of the event without much time to linger on Katniss’ struggle to survive in this harsh woodland environment that mockingly isn’t so different from her own home district. Again, this is Gary Ross’ choice to focus more on the outlying issues of the Capitol vs. the Districts and building that tension than in letting the games be the main event of the film.
Overall that’s really one of the few criticisms to make; it’s an extremely satisfying adaptation that smartly resists the temptation to be overwrought or to treat anything like a joke. In fact it’s apt to say that the tone of the film is from the perspective of someone from the districts not someone from the Capitol—nothing is entertaining when these teens start hacking away at each other in order to survive. It’s thrilling to watch the girl on fire outwit, outplay, and outlast the people who realize what a danger she now is and it’s going to be a hell of a ride to see how the next books are treated in future sequels. Which there of course there will be since this first film has made a lot of money so start your fan-casting engines now for the next two books, Internet. But be prepared to be surprised and delighted even with who gets the roles and what they do with them because this team has proven they have what it takes to bring this story to life in a way that the fans deserve for this beloved series.