suffers from Deathly Hallows
Syndrome, whereby small, seemingly insignificant plot-bits that are left out – or *shudder* changed – when condensing the story, spiral out of control, leaving other things to be left out later down the line. Or worse, altered entirely. Don't even get me started on the whole elder wand thing, again!
While I know that books are very different beasts to their cinematic counterparts, it's difficult to not feel hard done by when your weighty tome is changed in its transformation to the silver screen.
For those initiated, this particular story is such: at an unspecified time, the Capitol took power and what was previously North America was divided into 13 districts, run under an oppressive dictatorship. When rebellion failed, the 13th district was obliterated and the remaining twelve were punished. It was decreed that every year following, the 12 districts of Panem would offer up in tribute one young man and woman between the ages of twelve and 18 to be prepared to battle for their lives in the Hunger Games, an annual fight to the death aired on live TV.
Adapted from Suzanne Collins bestselling trilogy, Hunger Games
Director Gary Ross offers something in his adaptation that Collins could not when writing in Katniss' voice, and that's the experience of watching the Hunger Games unfold, rather than simply being a contestant in them.
Ross doesn't use a voice-over, instead, much of the exposition takes place wordlessly, through the film's action. What's left out by doing this though, is a great deal of characterisation. Would it be so much harder to depict Haymitch Abernathy as the cantankerous, damaged alcoholic he is, or Katniss as the manipulative and ruthless survivor she is, or Peeta as the self-sacrificing emotional Lover Boy that he is? Can we not have our post-apocalyptic dystopian cake and eat it too?
The absence of characterisation means that the love triangle that's par for the young adult fiction course falls almost entirely flat. There's little reason to jump on board #TeamPeeta or #TeamGale because the introductory sequence lacks the strength of feeling that comes from Katniss' first person narration. The film does almost nothing to reveal the basis of her relationship with Gale, nor her reasons for being so fiercely independent, which stem from her family's plight in the Gulags of District 12. (And, for a film that's about star crossed lovers trying to outsmart an oppressive regime, only one kiss?!)
We meet our protagonists on reaping day of the 74th Hunger Games and we quickly see that Panem is a nation divided. The rich are excessively rich; all glass chandeliers, platinum door handles, zany clothes and lavish amounts of food and drink, while the poor are utterly impoverished. Tributes are plucked from a very bleak-looking Districts and made-over as TV stars, given training and an ex-victor-turned-mentor then dropped into an arena for a little game of mass child slaughter that is forcibly broadcast on every screen in the nation.
The setting of this not-too-distant future is a juxtaposition of Holocaust-style labour camps and Minority Report-esque technologies being utilised by the Hunger Games gamemakers.
The handheld camerawork used during moments of high-stress and violence is darting and blurred, always searching and trying to focus in, and it really works to develop Katniss' panic. It also helps Ross to smartly cut around the film's violence, making a story that is all about children killing children while adults watch on, a very M-rated affair indeed. Images around the action flash past, allowing you to feel the impact of something, without ever really showing on anything that might affect a more adult classification.
Scattered between these fight scenes are pieces of commentary delivered straight to camera by Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman (the Gretel Kileen of Panem TV) and Toby Jones as Hunger Games announcer Claudius Templesmith, and it allows for the more confusing aspects of the story to be flat-out explained.
The film's main problem is that it doesn't deliver on the book's greatest success, which is in making you think about what survival is really worth. Collins created an allegory for class-struggle, told of the perils of totalitarianism, and offered a snide take on reality TV with some female empowerment thrown in for good measure, but not all of this shines through, which makes it hard to reconcile.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen is however, the perfect anti-Bella. She's smart, brave, strong, a capable hunter, a survivor, and protector and she doesn't need a boyfriend to feel complete. Likewise, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) is selfless and loyal, but not in the psychopathic way that Edward is. Australia's Own Liam Hemsworth hasn't been given much to do yet, but his spot as Gale in the Hunger Games
blossoming love triangle will surely be fleshed out in the series' second and third parts.
Having said all that, it is entertaining and Ross has successfully dissected and expanded the book and produced something that works as a film - so long as you're not too precious about its origins. It's undoubtedly a solid start to what is set to be a hugely popular franchise, and one that sets the stage for better things to come.
May the odds be ever in our favour.
Words by Ariel Katz. More at thevine.com.au