Be still our beating hearts, The Hunger Games nation, the odds are ever in your favor with the film from Gary Ross. This is a case where the page-to-screen adaptation of a beloved literary series makes the grade. Sure, a tiny few things are altered, but fans of the story of Katniss Everdeen and the first cinematic chapter of her journey should be ecstatic.
First and foremost, Jennifer Lawrence could not have been more perfectly cast as Miss Everdeen. From the film’s opening moments we meet not only the actress as the iconic character, but the setting that this tale entails. She is destitute and is the anchor that barely keeps her family floating above water. The District 12 resident is about to meet her destiny as the Reaping is upon us. What is the Reaping, you ask? Once a year every child from 12 to 18 gathers and submits their name to be considered for the annual Hunger Games.
Years ago, this world was in the midst of a revolt. When the government secured control over the rebellion, the authoritarian leaders -- headquartered in the Capitol -- decided to “teach a lesson” each year on the anniversary of the uprising. They would hold a fight-to-the-death challenge fought by two kids from each District. The entire thing is televised to the world.
As the Reaping is taking place, we meet Katniss and her sister Prim, both eligible for the Games. When Prim’s name is selected in her first year of availability, Katniss volunteers as tribute and we’re off and running. The male selected for the games from her District 12 home is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). Soon, they are off on a train to the Capitol with Effie (Elizabeth Banks), a government rep whose allegiance lies solely with her government. Then we meet Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), the duo’s mentor and a former winner of the Games himself.
The “honor” of this selection is shown by director Gary Ross as the pair pull into the station at the Capitol. It is a frenzied welcome reminiscent of the hometown visits by American Idol finalists. Peeta seems to relish it, while Katniss is not so sure.
The Hunger Games rivets on so many fronts. It is an origins story, but so much more. Ross has crafted a world of sights and sounds that are unlike audiences have ever seen before. The other crowning achievement of the helmer is his casting. Rarely has a book so effectively been cast for the screen. Hutcherson channels Peeta with an equal amount of panache and youthful awe. Katniss’ District 12 childhood friend Gale (who it appears has feelings for her), as embodied by Liam Hemsworth, is stoic and strong. While the three main stars, particularly Lawrence and Hutcherson, carry the film, the support cast excels.
Banks is a revelation as Effie, and Harrelson is Haymitch in every way possible. Donald Sutherland could not have been a more perfect choice to play President Snow, while Wes Bentley’s Seneca is the Games’ ringmaster and rivets in every scene. And then there’s the casting of rocker Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. The stylist to Katniss plays his part to perfection -- we almost want more from him.
The Hunger Games is a sweeping epic filled with suspense, romance and immense power. It stays with you long after the closing credits. Along with The Grey, Movie Fanatic believes the Suzanne Collins page-to-screen effort is the best film of 2012. We’ve seen the film twice now, and are eager to witness it again and again. That has to be the highest form of praise.
Some have compared the series to the Twilight Saga, but that is a fail on so many levels. For one, the books are much more adaptable to the screen. There’s also the fact that the story’s resonance is more universal, and not simply aimed at teenage girls and their mothers. This is a story for our time -- that appeals to women and men, of all ages.