The Hunger Games has been unfairly laden down with comparisons to Twilight, when in reality there only things they have in common are that both are adaptations of novels aimed at teenagers. The difference between them – the big, honking difference that’s impossible to miss – is that The Hunger Games is genuinely good.
It’s the distant future and, as a punishment for their rebellion, the twelve Districts are forced to give up one young man and woman every year to go to the Capitol and fight to the death on live TV for the entertainment of the world. Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen, a tough young girl who hunts in the woods to keep herself and her family alive, who volunteers in to take part in the Hunger Games in her sister’s place. What follows are just over two hours of razor-sharp tension, expertly balanced characters and some excellent scenes of children killing each other.
Director Gary Ross does a wonderful job in keeping the pace going throughout the film. Whereas most films of this length feel flabby and start to drag after a time, this one maintains the flow right up to the final credits. With the use of quick edits and shaky camera work, Ross manages to make a relatively bloodless film feel far more visceral than it actually is.
The cast are all uniformly excellent in their roles, managing to play their distinct roles and make the important characters stand out. Like in the novel, there are only a few characters out of the twenty four participants to pay attention to, and some thoughtful character design combines with surprisingly good child actors to make the games an easy battle to follow. Lawrence is particularly excellent in the lead role, managing to play the complexities of Katniss with particular charisma. By turns manipulative, cold, cunning, vengeful and seductive, Lawrence gives Katniss depth of character that Kristen Stewart could only dream about.
Using the brilliant source novel as a starting point, the film manages to expand upon the world, giving insights into the creation of the Games that were missing before. Now, instead of just following Katniss’s survival, the audience is allowed to get a greater understanding of the world around, watching behind the scenes of the Games, visiting other Districts and even giving more screentime to the President (Donald Sutherland). These decisions pay off hugely, allowing the world to feel far larger than the book’s limited perspective would allow for.
If there is a complaint to be made against the film, it’s that the actors are too damn good-looking. It’s hard to believe that Katniss, Peeta and Rue all come from poor districts when they all have immaculate skin and hands. Perhaps a bit more dirt and grime wouldn’t have gone unnoticed?
If you want to see the next Twilight-esque fad, do the world a favour and bury yourself up to the neck in the desert. If you want a good, fast-paced thriller that’s well-acted and expertly made, then come and watch The Hunger Games. Ignore anyone who calls it ‘the next Twilight’ and enjoy the sort of story that Stephanie Meyer wishes she could write.