Once upon a time there was such a thing as a blockbuster. Now I don’t mean the $200 million weekends with little follow up or cultural memory that we have today. No, I mean the whole package with a song playing on endless loop on the radio, a dynamite soundtrack and score (one of each) that you had to have, useless tie-in books that only fed the hype, an official toy line, some kind of fast food meal and posters literally everywhere. By the time you got into the theatre there you were worked into such a frenzy that the film rarely matched up to the hype and you walked out sad and disappointed. This model has faded over time as film has become more commercial. Why spend all that cash up front when people are going to see it in the first three days anyway?
Enter The Hunger Games and with it all of the trappings of the old-school blockbuster. There are Mockingjay pins, Tribute guides, earbuds, bookbags, pencil cases, Hunger Games Barbie dolls, and a song by Taylor Swift and The Civil Wars. Add to this the fact that the film is based on a trilogy of successful teen novels and all this equation is missing is a Happy Meal.
There’s just one problem.
The Hunger Games delivers on every bit of its hype-y promise. It is a film that captures the spirit of the books, while creating a new and divergent entity that dazzles with its complexity, action and heart. From beginning to end, the film is a success.
The film is set in the world of Panem; our own world, only a considerable time in the future. Society has been divided into 12 Districts, all controlled by the Capitol. Each District is comprised of a small village dedicated in its entirety to supplying a good, service or natural resource to the lush, lavish citizens of the Capitol. At some point in the past, the Districts revolted, causing a civil war that ended swiftly with the military and technological strength of the Capitol. As a reminder of what happens when they rebel, each District is required to give two children ““ one boy and one girl ““ between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in The Hunger Games, a fight for survival to the death from which only one can return. The story focuses on Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a 16-year-old girl from District 12. When her sister is randomly selected to be the District’s female Tribute in the Games, Katniss volunteers to go in her place, beginning a journey through the riches of the Capitol and the savagery of the Games. Accompanied by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the male Tribute from her District, she can only hope that the odds are in her favour and that she can return home to her family.
Given that books have a significantly longer period of time to create atmosphere, develop characters and deepen relationships, adapting a book into a feature-length script is no easy task. It is safe to say, however, that while the books have been beloved reads of tweens and teens since 2008 when the first one was released, they did not reach the height of their popularity until the movie was announced and the marketing engine starting working. It seems that this was actually an asset in the adaptation process, allowing for a script that provides context and richness to the books’ fans, but mostly creates a stand-alone film that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Casting choices in Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson are excellent. Lawrence, having stormed onto the scene in 2010 with her Oscar nominated performance in Winter’s Bone, has proved herself to be an accomplished actress, which is exactly what this role needs. In the books, Katniss is an extremely complex character with a rich inner world. Told entirely in first person through her eyes, casting a less capable actress would have caused a riot among fans and would have meant the downfall of the film. Hutcherson plays the role of the soft-hearted, but charismatic Peeta in a way that allows the viewer to come to understand his strengths slowly, in a character development arc that film rarely takes the time to create.
It goes without saying that the rest of the stellar and star-studded cast supports these two perfectly. Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth, Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland and Lenny Kravitz all shine in their roles, but never outshine the main characters.
The remainder of the film’s environment ““ from makeup to set design and decoration to costumes to sound to soundtrack ““ is wonderful. In short, this film is a near-perfect package that will thrill its audiences and fans of the books at the same time. Whether or not they continue and make the remaining books in the series, The Hunger Games tells a complete ““ and wonderfully satisfying ““ story.