The slogan of The Hunger Games is “May the odds be ever in your favor” and I’d say the odds are definitely in the favor of the filmmakers scoring a huge hit with this movie. Fans of this young adult bestseller, and they are legion, should be thrilled with how literal this adaptation is.
Having just read the book, I can attest to how faithful this movie is to the plot and characters of the novel. Most of what is lost in translation is due to the necessary telescoping a 400 page book must undergo to make a 2 hour and 20 minute movie. The film deserves credit for including as much as it does, considering how much terrain the story covers.
That being said, there’s more to a great adaptation than literalness. The movie lacks the dramatic power or visual sweep that could have turned this version into something other than a pictorial representation of the book. It’s a serviceable rendition but not much more.
What both the book and the movie do share is its terrifying premise: that in a future, post-apocalyptic world, kids will be forced to kill other kids for sport in front of a nationwide television audience. As we follow the unfortunate 24 teenagers from their random, lottery-like selection through their battle preparations and on to their deadly confrontations, it’s almost impossible not to get engaged in the inherent drama of what’s going on, especially since we’re given a rooting interest in one particular hard-luck 16-year-old girl.
As far as I’m concerned, neither the book nor the movie take full advantage of its nightmarish premise but at least the book allows our imagination to roam free enough to fill in some of the psychological gaps. In the movie, it’s in such a hurry to get to the next scene that there’s no time to let the horror of what’s happening sink in. At times, it devolves into a straight action movie. That may keep the heart pumping but it doesn’t engage the emotions. (The mopey love triangle doesn’t engage the emotions much either, although I’m sure the film’s target audience doesn’t mind.)
Much of the movie also looks a little chintzy, especially the scenes set in the Capitol. The spectacle of the costumed combatants arriving in a parade of chariots, for instance, is embarrassingly meagre, especially given how much time is devoted to it in the book. And the physical centerpiece of the Games, the Cornucopia, is an odd, boxy mishmash of geometric shapes.
Still, the movie works well as social satire. It gets a lot of mileage out of the clash between the haves and the have-nots and it takes nasty delight in exposing how our fixation with reality TV is a detriment to our humanity. (Life is a show … for other people.) For a movie aimed at young adults, that’s pretty smart.