This weekend, the wildly popular Hunger Game Trilogy from author Suzanne Collins finally hit the big screen to one of the biggest box office openings for a non-sequel in history. Somehow, somewhere, this series of books has struck a chord with millions of people, and those people voted with their money over the weekend, sending The Hunger Games to over $60 million in revenue.
But the question is, was it good? The answer is absolutely yes.
As a fan of the books, I may be a bit biased toward the movie, but I believe that even if I hadn’t ever read the books, the movie would have engaged me. There is something about the fight for survival that speaks to some primal part of us, that reminds us that we are all struggling and fighting each and everything day over something, with each of us craving victory. In fact, it seems as if the character of Katniss can be found in us all, completely with all her doubts, fears, and second guessing. But, it is Katniss’ bravery that is her greatest quality, along with her willingness to sacrifice, and the tenderness that she shows for her sister Primrose. In fact, that same closeness she feels with her sister is what causes her to reach out to Rue, another competitor in the games. But, more on that later.
For those who have been living under a rock the last few years, The Hunger Games follows Katniss Everdeen, a resident of District 12 in a post-apocalyptic world where the United States is no more and the nation is now called Panem. The Captiol is situated in the Rocky Mountains, with the districts spiraling outwards from it. 12 is where coal is mined, and the landscape is appropriately bleak and hopeless looking. Katniss lives with her mother and Primrose, her younger, fair skinned, fair haired sister. As the movie begins, we find Katniss doing what she does best: hunting. From there, we see her volunteer to take her sister’s place in the Reaping, which is an annual event held to select each District’s two competitors for the Hunger Games, held as an annual reminder of the failed rebellion against The Capitol. 24 competitors enter….only 1 leaves.
Through a series of events, Katniss ends up in the Captiol and the highest ranked competitor going into the games, only after been groomed by her caretakers Effie Trinket and Haymitch, along with Cinna and his team of stylists. As the competitors ready themselves to enter the arena, Cinna reveals the mockingjay pin on the inside collar of Katniss’ clothing, which becomes an important symbol for the rest of the series. So, does Katniss win the Hunger Games? What about the major foil of the series, her will they/won’t they relationship with the baker’s son Peeta Mellark? All questions are answered by the end, but others are raised, leaving the viewers appetites perfectly whetted for the next installment, which is due in 2013.
Where the Hunger Games succeeds is in it’s machine gun-like delivery, both in print and film. Collins uses words like bullets, spraying them out at high velocity to keep the reader’s attention. The movie is no exception. The action moves fast. There are lots of close ups of the characters faces, including their reactions. There are moments that take the viewers breath away, and even though the focus of the Hunger Games is it’s brutality, the action on the screen is never overly gory or exaggerated. That is not to downplay is viciousness, though. Characters are stabbed, speared, slammed, set on fire, stung, and more. The movie does a great job in these action scenes of showing both the chaotic nature of the games and the wickedness of a society that would allow it’s young to be put to death for sport.
The visuals in the movie appropriately capture Collin’s vision of the downtrodden District 12 and the overly augmented citizens of the Capitol. While some would argue that certain characters should look a certain way, the casting in the movie is excellent in capturing the spirit of the characters.
However, there were some moments that the movie seemed to falter. First, one of the movie’s opening scenes sees Katniss giving Primrose a mockingjay pin to “protect her”. In reality, the books see a character named Madge give the pin to Katniss, and we never see Madge in this version of the Games. Also, the books are told from the perspective of Katniss’ thoughts, so some of her actions, her attitudes, and her personality don’t transition over as well as they could. Lastly, a large detail is left out near the end relating to Peeta Mellark, a detail that affects him for the rest of the trilogy in the literature. It will be interesting to see if they try to go back and correct this mistake, or simply leave Peeta the way he is.
So, should you go see The Hunger Games? Yes. Absolutely yes. If you like action, if you like drama, if you like a compelling story, then you will love The Hunger Games. While my other geeks may disagree, I thought the movie was a faithful and fun interpretation of books that I fully enjoyed reading. Grab some popcorn and drink, settle down at your favorite theater, and enjoy a well made movie. Now, if the next one would only come out sooner….