With the 2012 movie season to date proving mediocre at best, it’s high time for the most anticipated film of the year to crash into the charts. You know what I’m talking about: the silver-screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ bloodthirsty trilogy, “The Hunger Games.” In a future where the totalitarian Capital reigns supreme over the nation of Panem, which was once the United States, once a year the twelve Districts are forced to offer up one boy and girl to battle to death or glory — all while being broadcast on national TV. These Games make “Survivor” and “Fear Factor” look like they belong on Nick Jr.
In the poverty-ravaged District 12, a coal mining town that Pennsylvanians will appreciate as being nestled in the present-day Appalachian Mountains, we meet our heroine. Katniss Everdeen, 16 years old and a wizard with a bow and arrows, has been the breadwinner of the family since the death of her father. This year, the 74th anniversary of the Games, against fantastic odds, the female District 12 tribute selected is none other than her angel-faced little sister, Primrose. Katniss, as any big sister would do, instantly volunteered to take her place. With these words, she finds herself whisked away to what will almost certainly be her death.
The interwoven worlds of Panem are as different as coal and diamonds (or, as Effie, the air-headed Capital representative, proudly comments in the novel, coal and pearls). Brief shots of Katniss making her way through her hometown speak words to its penniless, hopeless nature, decades into the past in terms of technology yet oddly fused with such devices as tabletop TV projectors. When Katniss and her male tribute counterpart, Peeta Mellark, board the hovering train to the Capital, they’re already fish out of water. The decadence of the Capital is even visible in its trains, with crystal chandeliers and mahogany tables — we get one of the movie’s best laughs from Effie’s appall at Katniss ramming a knife into one’s surface.
The city itself is a glistening white wonderland of the future, built on ridiculous Technicolor fashion and outrageous technological luxuries. This overlying aura of cheerful blitheness masks a darker element. Nobody can truly be secure, not even the powerful and famous, because one unfavorable word or action could bring the fist of the Capital down on them without mercy. It is here that the 24 tributes prepare themselves for their showdown. This begins not with training or combat but with a parade, showing off the tributes in flamboyant costumes. When Katniss meets her stylist, Cinna, seemingly one of the sanest Capital-dwellers and a fashion genius, their brief exchange makes it obvious that the other goal of the tributes, beyond the fight against each other, is the fight to win the approval of the wealthy sponsors of the Capital, who might help them survive: “So you’re here to make me look pretty,” Katniss says, to which Cinna replies, “I’m here to help you make an impression.”
Finally, it’s time to enter the arena. For a book with as much gore and child-against-child brutality as “The Hunger Games,” the film manages to do it justice in a PG-13 manner. Necks are snapped, throats are slit, and skulls are cracked, but all in such a rush of transitions that they are savage and artistic all at once. Sound, or lack thereof, plays a key role in many battle scenes, with moments such as the initial rush into the bloodbath or Katniss being stunned by a nearby explosion fading into nothing but the adrenaline-fueled pulsating of silence. The most disturbing element is seeing the eagerness with which some take to their new roles as killers. The “Career Tributes,” hailing from the wealthier districts and having trained their entire lives for this moment, form a merciless and cruel pack, laugh with glee as they take off after their next victim.
Naturally, “The Hunger Games” has a good share of tender moments amid the chaos. The opening scene where Katniss comforts Prim after a nightmare and their parting words before the Games are guaranteed to squeeze the hearts of every sibling in the audience. Katniss forms a touching and heartbreaking relationship with the tiny, pure-hearted Rue in the arena. Most importantly is her growing bond with Peeta, who declared his love for her to all of Panem and gave them the role of “star-crossed lovers.” Naturally, this leads to a lot of confusion on Katniss’ part as to how much is purely for the camera, as well as stirring something green-eyed inside Gale, her lifelong friend back home. I will make one thing perfectly clear: No matter how many magazines have been hyping the new “angst-filled love triangle” of “the new Twilight” movie, it is not that whatsoever.
To me, the way to honor a great book is by making the movie adaptation faithful to the original story. Fans will be happy to hear that “The Hunger Games” is religious in its page-to-screen translation, turning the story into a masterpiece of battles of the body and mind alike. This is the blockbuster we’ve been waiting for, and I can safely say that the odds have proven ever in our favor.