There’s no denying that The Hunger Games will be a financial success – the $80 million flick is expected to open well above the $100 million mark, earning back its production budget during the first 72 hours of release. But big numbers at the box office don’t always equate to quality filmmaking (see my Breaking Dawn review here), so the question remains – is The Hunger Games just the latest opportunity for Hollywood to capitalize on the success of a young adult book series, or is it really as good as the hype would have you believe?
Set in a dystopian future where a corrupt Capitol reigns supreme over 12 poverty-stricken districts, The Hunger Games tells the story of an annual event which requires each district to offer up one male and one female in “tribute.” These tributes, all between the ages of 12 and 18, must compete in a brutal survival contest until only one is left alive, with the entire harrowing ordeal broadcast on live television throughout the nation, while the richest citizens of the Capitol place bets on their favorite competitors.
In an effort to spare the life of her frail younger sister, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to become a tribute for District 12, and along with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is whisked away to the Capitol by the so-crazy-she’s-terrifying Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) to begin training under the guidance of cantankerous alcoholic Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). A number of surprising events unfold during the opening ceremonies that put Katniss at the top of everyone’s watch list, and as the Games finally get underway, she finds not only must she compete against the 23 other tributes, she must face down the tyranny of the Capitol itself.
As a tremendous fan of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, my expectations for this film were astronomical. I had pictured the lavish environments of the Capitol and the downtrodden citizens of District 12 countless times in my head, and I wasn’t sure that the film would be able to accurately portray the finer details of the narrative. What I did not expect, however, was for The Hunger Games to exceed my expectations at nearly every turn. Fellow fans of the book will be happy to know that all of the major sequences, from the Reaping to the iconic “girl on fire” scene, have been brought to life in magnificent fashion.
The performances here are astounding, especially from Lawrence, who embodies Katniss with the same heartfelt compassion and fierce determination as her literary counterpart, creating one of the most positive female role models to come out of Hollywood in a very long time. Hutcherson also displays impressive range, portraying Peeta with the perfect mix of charisma and sympathy that audiences will instantly connect with.
Despite the incredibly talented young headliners, some of the best moments in The Hunger Games come from the excellent supporting cast. Banks is nearly unrecognizable in a bouffant wig and ghastly white face paint, and Harrelson slurs and stumbles through his dialogue with a mischievous glint in his eye, but neither of them can compete with Stanley Tucci, who steals every scene as extravagant talk show host Caesar Flickerman, sporting what might be the best hairpiece in the history of cinema.
Aside from an unfortunate decision to shoot all of the action scenes with the same sort of motion-blur shaky-cam style that has become all too familiar since the Bourne franchise, Gary Ross does a remarkable job of bringing The Hunger Games to life and convincing the viewer that this dark future could very well exist within the confines of our own reality. After nine years away from the director’s chair, Ross has returned in style, with an epic, emotional tale that should resonate with audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
Without a doubt, The Hunger Games is the best film of the year thus far. It will drag you breathlessly from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other, and as one of the best book-to-film adaptations ever produced, is more than worthy of the pre-release hype it has garnered.