When Tom told me that Suzanne Collins was attached to The Hunger Games as a co-writer and co-producer, I was a little nervous. That could have gone one of two ways: either she was too attached to her writing and would hinder the adaptation, or she was attached to her story and vision, and would allow changes that would bring those to life in this medium. Fortunately for the movie, the latter took place. The Hunger Games is the first instance of an adaptation of a movie from a book where I cannot definitively say whether I like the movie or the book better. Usually I can tell after one read and viewing which I like better, but in this case, I’m drawing blanks. And that I think, is the hallmark of a great adaptation.
Let’s get down to brass tacks here: The Hunger Games is a great movie. It does what I wish more movies and TV shows would do, which is to take advantage of their medium, and show, not tell. What I mean by that is, for example, with a book a character’s reaction to an event would be described to you, and it has to be, and many times in lesser movies, the same scene in a movie would have the character tell you out loud how they are reacting or feeling, rather than just reacting, and letting the camera show you that. In this movie, with one notable exception (I won’t get into what scene due to spoilers, find me in the comments if you really want to know), nothing is told to the audience that could not be better shown. The setting, history, and the society is established with shots, rather than characters or voiceovers explaining it in an expository fashion. When Katniss counts down the cannon shots, we don’t hear her, we just see her lips move, because what we need to know is not the number she gets to, but the fact that she’s counting and doing it silently. No one comes out and states the disparity of the living conditions of the populace, but they don’t have to, because we can see it with our own eyes.
This movie, as well as the book, treat the audience with respect. They expect you to follow along, but they provide you with the information to do so. They have setups that have payoffs. They hint at things, and expect you to follow them to the obvious conclusions. I expect we shall find this movie in many a syllabi for future potential movie makers to learn how that is done effectively. I feel that this movie welcomes both the rabid fan of the book, as well as those who have no idea what the books are about. You may need to watch the movie multiple times to tease out every detail that’s in the movie, but that is to it’s credit. And all the major plot points from the book make their way here as well.
Speaking of plot, it is gripping and intense, and propels you through the movie, but without feeling rushed, nor overly lengthy, despite being two and a half hours long. I feel the pacing is just right, providing drama and tension at key moments, but then giving you room to breathe before the next rise.
The acting in this movie is all around superb, but Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss Everdeen) has to be singled out for a virtuoso performance, delivering depth and nuance despite the pace of the movie. She tackles the tough challenge of letting us into her emotions without having to say out loud (or in a voice-over) what she is feeling, and passes with flying colours. Another shout-out has to go to Elizabeth Banks as Effie, for taking a character that could’ve been very, very, very cheesy, and portraying her with heart.
I would heartily recommend seeing this movie, especially if you are already a fan of the books, but even to non-fans; it is worth seeing in theatres.