When I first heard about The Hunger Games, I must admit I was skeptical. Every time someone would explain to me what the books were about, they sounded even worse. I pictured little kids with machetes going at each other in a coliseum setting. It just sounded ridiculous to me. But one day I found myself with the first book in my hand and I decided to just give the series a chance. After reading them, I realized that they were much more than what I had expected them to be. Though the series is printed by the children’s publishing company Scholastic, the books are centered on a violent plot and are infused with mature political concepts.
The Hunger Games, written by Suzanne Collins, takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where the bloodthirsty dictator of “The Capitol”, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has supreme rule over the twelve separate districts, known as Panem. At one point, there was a thirteenth district, but it rebelled against the Capitol and was quelled. As a reminder of this uprising, each district has to send both a male and a female “tribute” between the ages of 12 and 18 to the Capitol, where they will perform in the Hunger Games. In these “Games” the children must battle each other to the death until there is only one left standing. The “Games” are televised for all of Panem to watch as their tributes kill, suffer and most likely die. The story follows Katniss Everdeen, a sixteen-year-old girl from District Twelve, the poorest and most neglected District.
Because of the franchise’s huge success, I knew it would be a just a matter of time before these books were translated into movies, but I had mixed feelings before going into the theater. I was excited because I really enjoyed the books, but I was afraid these movies would go down what I like to call “the Twilight route”.
At midnight on Mar. 23, I found myself surrounded by twelve-year-olds and their chaperones. It was then that I realized that I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. There were probably over fifty Katnisses between the ages of six and 42, the latter of which was slightly disturbing. I didn’t understand how any child would be able to sift through the complex themes throughout the book and find enjoyment in reading them. I didn’t realize what drew these children to the books until a party of thirteen preteens and their mom came into the theater wearing “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta” headbands. This is when I really started to get nervous.
Surprisingly, I ended up really enjoying the Gary Ross-directed movie. Yes, it had some problems, but I think what made it successful overall was the superb casting. Each character looked and acted exactly how I pictured them, though it seemed like the movie focused less on the characters and more on the overall events that were happening. The biggest mistake made was the lack of character development. If I hadn’t read the books, I probably wouldn’t have cared for the movie at all because there was such a small focus on the characters themselves. It didn’t give the audience a chance to become attached to specific characters and this lack of connection made the movie sort of two-dimensional. Another conflict I had with the movie was the over-emphasis of the “tragic love triangle” between Katniss, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth). It was annoying and unnecessary and I feel like they could have used that extra time to develop some of the main characters more.
I think for someone who hadn’t read the book, The Hunger Games movie would come across a lot differently. For this plot line, it is necessary to have some connection with the characters in order to be entertained by their losses and victories, yet even I had to force myself to feel sad when a certain primary character died. Throughout the first hour, I was reeling from the suspense, but this was really only due to my foreknowledge (and probably because the air conditioning was broken in the theater, leaving the temperature to be about 89 degrees). Looking back, the movie was directed towards those who had already read the book, leaving those who hadn’t with flat characters and a shallow understanding of the plot line.
Because of the graphic plotline of the novel, I was expecting the movie to take gore to the next level, but unfortunately, most of the violence was subdued and unseen. I realize that they have to cater to the younger fans as well, but the horrific slaughter of these young children is what really evokes an emotional response and brings the viewer to realize that our world has the potential to become something horrific.
I know filmmakers who make a movie out of a popular book have the arduous and nearly impossible task of staying true to the storyline while still creating an appealing and entertaining film. The Hunger Games, for the most part stayed true to the plotline, had a great cast, brilliant costume designs and a true translation of the settings of Panem and the Capitol, but overall, it really lacked in the most important aspects of the storyline. Without the foreknowledge of the plot and characters, viewers may have a difficult time understanding the depth and purpose of the movie. So if you haven’t read the book, read it before going to see this movie.