The Hunger Games

Perhaps the smartest thing about the big-screen adaptation of The Hunger Games is how it’s not only tailored to the legions of teenage fans of the Suzanne Collins novel upon which it’s based. It’s a film for everyone.

While aficionados of the book series will be satisfied, the uninitiated won’t have any trouble following along with this taut and often riveting science-fiction allegory that combines elements of everything from The Most Dangerous Game to “Survivor.”

Writer-director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) makes a mainstream concession by watering down some the violence from the source material, but that doesn’t make it significantly less provocative or suspenseful.

The story is set in the near future, in the fictional North American country of Panem, where poor and working-class citizens have been relegated to live in 12 separate districts as punishment by the corrupt government for a prior rebellion.

The annual competition sees each district choose two teenagers — one boy and one girl — to train then fight in a barbaric, nationally televised competition in which only one survivor emerges. In the case of District 12, the two “tributes” are Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), whose approaches to the competition are different.

As recent adaptations of young adult literature go, The Hunger Games is much closer in quality to the original Harry Potter than to Twilight, even if its quieter moments get a bit cheesy.

It isn’t a film that wraps up the viewer in convoluted fantasy worlds filled of super-powered heroes and alien sidekicks. Rather, these are humans on Earth, in a not-too-distant future that seems just convincing enough to give the material a harrowing edge.

After just a few moments to explain the particulars of the title, things get off and running quickly without an abundance of contextual gimmicks or visual effects.

Ross keeps the action moving, favoring hand-held cameras to give a gritty texture to the otherwise slick production, even if he goes easy on the some of the potentially topical satire about socioeconomic class structure from the book.

The performances of Hutcherson and Lawrence are grounded enough to allow for emotional investment. The supporting ensemble includes Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland.

Like its source material, the film is expected to launch a franchise, of course. Viewers can hope future installments retain this same thoughtful approach that works on multiple levels.


Rated PG-13, 142 minutes.