It doesn’t take more than a smattering of cultural awareness to realize that The Hunger Games is this year’s first real event movie; the kind of thing everyone at least knows about and most people plan to see, many having done so at midnight premieres (this being the first time my sister has seen a movie at midnight and I haven’t).
I watched it last night, and got exactly what I was expecting: A pretty good, very faithful adaptation of the book. It would have been really bizarre if the movie had ended up as anything else considering the novel is written like a screenplay (Suzanne Collins’ background as a screenwriter didn’t surprise me in the least) that readers don’t put down as much for the fact that it’s insanely easy to get through as for the cliffhanger upon cliffhanger structure of the story.
It’s a not entirely original dystopian future with a totalitarian police state that forces some children to fight to the death every year. You know this by now. You also might hear it compared with Twilight, and while the fandoms do have a good deal of overlap (as the fangirls screaming at the abysmally boring Breaking Dawn Part 2 trailer in my theater last night could attest) and they’re suitable for the same age groups, The Hunger Games trilogy is actually pretty alright, with its teen romance very much secondary to the struggles against the brutal Capitol.
It also has the courtesy not to waste any of your time, but in doing so really fails to build a world that stacks up with some of the other imagined futures out there (Is it unfair to compare Collins to Orwell or Huxley? Okay yes, it probably is.). The film speculates as to the extent of Capitol technology, and manages to overshoot the already-hard-to-swallow genetic engineering of the book to give us instantaneous materialization of living matter. I didn’t quite buy it.
The character work is one of the adaptation’s triumphs, with every bit of potential hinted at in the text realized by the performances of the impressive cast. Literally everyone nails it. I liked Katniss exactly as much as I did in the book, and all the rest of them are far more compelling. It would be worth it for that alone, but the visual and sound design are both exceptional, and save for the unveiling of Katniss and Peeta’s flaming attire (not as stunning as I’d hoped) the world looks and sounds suitably impressive.
The opening act is the probably the strongest, and if every scene had been as incredible as the Reaping I would have fallen completely in love with the film. As it stands we have an adaptation that’s about as successful as it could be, its best and worst points all stemming largely from the source material. This is one blockbuster release where you might as well let yourself get swept up in the excitement.
As someone who thinks each book gets better, I say bring on the franchise and have a Happy Hunger Games.