Summer is coming earlier and earlier every year apparently. The day might come when the blockbuster season for hollywood is no longer called by that season, replaced by spring. Or maybe seasons have nothing to do with it anymore, and simply, big releases and box office wonders are dictated by a far more interesting phenomena than kids being out of school: kids reading books.
The Hunger Games, based on the book by Suzanne Collins, take place in the futuristic world of Panem, where districts once rebelled against the government established in the Capitol, and now, 74 years later, are both blood sport and government oppression tool. A boy and a girl, between 12 and 18 years of age, will combat the representatives from other districts in mortal combat. The last one standing is the victor.
Katniss Everdeen takes care of her family. Is a grown woman, despite not being of age, and looks after her sister Prim, since the death of her father and their mother’s struggles to cope with it have both Everdeen siblings fighting for their survival.
Against all odds, only on her first year of eligibility, Prim is drafted to the games. Katniss quickly jumps out of the crowd, and volunteers to be District 12′s tribute instead. And so begins the journey to the arena, one that is more complex than initially advertised, and that has more to it than other manhunt movies done before.
For some, The Hunger Games might feel a bit slow. I believe the pacing is solid, very steady, and needs to take its time to build the place where these kids will face each other. The games might give the story its name, but its the outer world that gives it all its character and importance.
Its difficult for a movie to squeeze in all the context and themes included in a book of such density as this one. This is not Twilight. The political themes, social analysis and family issues all make their way to the screen, and do it with strength and conviction, giving the characters even more depth.
The casting has been superb. Jennifer Lawrence is a great leading lady, and the whole ensemble, which includes Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and yes, Lenny Kravitz, are charismatic and effective. I was, however, extremely surprised by Josh Hutcherson’s performance. His character, Peeta, is very difficult. Here you have a desperate underdog, who understands the odds are against him, and is driven to survive, yet, he never abandons his real self, and puts ethics before anything else. He pulls it off convincingly, and in my opinion, steals the show.
Sometimes, the art direction reminded me a lot of Speed Racer by the Wachowski Brothers, but I don’t mean this in a bad way. While in speed racer too much color, broadcast booth shots and overall speed affected the movie in a bad way, in Hunger Games, the colorful takes and big brother-ish elements are only present when needed, and in a much understated, powerful way that really help the viewer get immersed.
In the end, The Hunger Games is a very good exercise in book adaptation. It reminds us that a popular franchise doesn’t have to stumble on its way to a screen. It can move millions while bringing quality and freshness to the table. Lionsgate has a monster in its hands. Now the challenge is ensuring the second installment is even better than the first.