The Hunger Games is a story of strength and survival and its cinematic adaptation is an exercise of style and substance over blockbuster/movie franchise requirements.
The story revolves around the tragic fate of a young woman in a dystopian future, where children 12 to 18 year old from twelve districts are forced by the Capitol (the city holding the central political authority) to fight each other to death as a punishment for their districts’ past rebellion. The movie is an adaptation of the eponymous first novel of the Hunger Games trilogy, written by Suzanne Collins. The announcement of the adaptation of the books into films caused a great discussion among fans due to their general concept, violence. The central question was how to produce a film aiming towards younger audiences and market it to the children and their parents, when the central topic is authoritative sardonic cruelty and the desensitization to violence caused by the media?
The studio apparently had two choices: the easy way, where romance would be over-emphasised to the expense of more substantial themes, or the hard way, which would make the publication and marketing process much harder. Wisely, they chose to safeguard the artistic integrity of the project, while drawing a great variety of talents to assist in the movie’s development, from Gary Ross, director of Pleasantville, to Jennifer Lawrence, an actress who at 21 has already been nominated for an Oscar, to Suzanne Collins herself, who contributed to the screenplay. Steven Soderbergh’s small, but sweet contribution as Second Unit Director was also a winking to cinephiles.
Fortunately, all this talent succeeded in producing an artistically pleasing and though provocative film that engaged both the younger and the older audience. Stylistically, the cinematography and costumes (especially the Peacekeepers’ gear) bring to mind 70s futuristic films. The story unravels without spending too much time in explaining situation, but rather allowing the audience to pick up information through the visual representation of events. This, of course, may be challenging in its own right, given the fact that in the majority of blockbusters situations and relations are explicitly explained through dialogues, with the information often being repeated throughout the film. At times it felt like knowing the book was important in order to appreciate the qualities of the movie, without trying to figure out certain details regarding the behaviour or the attitude of the characters. Some characters were never also officially introduced, or their role was never explained, such as Effie Trinket and Portia (Peeta’s stylist). This was, indeed, one of the complains I heard from two separate moviegoers, who were trying to find out why the Games were taking place in the first place.
The Huger Games also stands out as a film due to the central female character. After years of watching Bella Swan, the docile Mary Sue from Twilight taking over teenagers’ walls and fantasies, Katniss Everdeen is a refreshing change. She is a fighter and a caretaker. She is the male figure in her household. Her masculinity, in combination with her female traits, mostly expressed through her motherly love towards her sister and her attraction to her male companions, present her as a character that surpasses gender stereotypes and becomes relevant to both the male and female audience, without relying on nudity or emotional fragility. She is a role model, not a shapeless container for female day-dreaming. On the other hand, the love triangle between her, Peeta and Gale has been largely underplayed in the movie. Peeta is less persistent and his protective feelings towards her are expressed through actions, rather than words. Gale has officially taken over the role of the caretaker of her family, which is another strong way of showcasing his dedication to her.
The Hunger Games is not for the faint-hearted. It is at times so violent (even implicitly) that one should wonder how the studio managed to secure a PG-13 rating in the USA and a 12A in the UK. It should actually urge the movie industry professionals to discussion the possibility of providing a classification that would include tweens (9-12), but would exclude all younger audience. The maturity and needs of children, indeed, has significantly changed of the decades, as “childhood” is by no means a historically steady and homogeneous developmental stage. That said, it is by no means as violent, tense or aesthetically invasive as Battle Royal or Lord of the Flies. It is, nevertheless, a good start to a trilogy that was the smart marketing campaign and trailers that presented the film cohesively, without giving too much away (something that even big studios with long history have failed to do in the recent past). The Hunger Games is, by all means, a tremendous success for everyone involved and will hopefully pave the way for more challenging heroines and storylines in the near future.