One of the initial aspects of the plot that drew me into reading “The Hunger Games” and seeing the movie was the promise of no vampires – while Panem isn’t modern day America, it certainly feels more real and accessible than a family of nightwalkers that feast on animal blood, like the Cullens in “Twilight.” And instead of a whiny, frail female lead who needs a boyfriend as much as Edward Cullen needs blood, we’re given a real hero in Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence).
I’m hard-pressed to find a modern female protagonist that I like as much as Katniss, the I’ll-fend-for-myself-thank-you-very-much female lead. In both the book and the movie, Katniss is portrayed as a sort of mother figure to her little sister, Prim (Willow Shields). After Katniss’ father dies and her mother falls into a depression, Katniss takes on the role of the provider for the family.
She is someone that We the Post-Internet People, a selfish and increasingly-lazy bunch as a whole, can’t all relate to – but would like to. She’s driven by a deep love for her sister and her District, knows how to provide for herself and others, and volunteers to give up everything she knows to travel to the Capitol and fight to the death. We learn in the novel that she’s been on the verge of starvation, has already had to deal with the death of a loved one, and has developed a sort of female warrior persona that isn’t completely captured on-screen.
The problem with Katniss Everdeen in the film is not her lack of compassion, but her lack of a bad-ass demeanor – Ross portrays Katniss as merely “the hunted” while in the arena, a protector and avoider, but in the book we can see more of her urgency and willingness to kill to save her life. Katniss lacks her rough edges, and her relationships with other characters suffer because of it.
The budding romance between Katniss and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), the male tribute from District 12, while heartwarming in the book, comes off as rushed and underdeveloped in the movie adaptation. Few scenes support the fact that Katniss could care about him more than in a matronly way, and the only glimpse we get into their past together is a murky flashback of Peeta tossing a loaf of bread at her. However, while she may not show much physical affection for Peeta, Katniss does her best to fend off the bloodthirsty tributes from other Districts when Peeta is injured.
The brutality of the well-trained tributes from richer districts does not go unnoted: there is much hacking of axes, tossing of spears and knives and blood-curdling screaming to silence any claims that because the movie is PG-13, it can’t be scary. There was enough suspense in the arena to keep me awake and attentive until 2:30 a.m. at the film’s packed midnight showing.
Along with getting the darker parts of the story right, Ross develops the bizarre, ‘90s-fashion-meets-colonial-times world of the Capitol city flawlessly. Despite the lack of accents, the people born and bred in the finest part of Panem are as inaccessible to the viewer as they are to Katniss, an outlier to their culture from District 12. The scenes with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), the Capitol’s beloved talk show host, provide the perfect amount of comic relief to the unsettling events that occur in the arena. While the politics and the Capitol visit may take up the first hour of the film’s duration, the pace is quick and I was surprised by how engaged in the plot I was, even when Katniss and Peeta had yet to step foot in the arena.
The only place where the screenplay falls short is with characterization and the development of certain relationships that readers find in Collins’ book. While he gets the individual characters right, Ross leaves out some important details that readers deduce by having Katniss Everdeen narrate the series.[media-credit name=”allmoviephotos.com” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]If you’re a nit-picky reader and a diehard fan of the series, you’re going to be disappointed with (or at least confused by) a few scenes.
The mockingjay symbol that has become the main emblem of the trilogy loses its meaning when Katniss is given her mockingjay pin by a nameless old woman in the District 12 market. While the mockingjay stands for home and, later on, rebellion from the corrupt government, in the movie the bird is merely a bird. The small token that sparks a fire is replaced with an impromptu rebellion scene from an outlying District. These revolts, as readers are told in the book’s sequel “Catching Fire” were supposed to have happened after the Games had ended.
However, Ross added a few beneficial scenes that could not have been in the book that give the viewer a deeper understanding of how the government operates. The scenes with conversation between President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the instigator of the Games, and Game Maker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) give the viewer an insight into the controlling government body in Panem that readers can’t get from Katniss’ tale. This glimpse into the inner-workings of the Games sets up the viewer for future films, the second installment “Catching Fire,” which Ross has confirmed to be released a year and a half from now.
Three out of Four Stars.