In March 2012, a relatively unknown movie was released. It was about a Girl and a Boy, who are selected to fight to the death in a televised show of combat, created by a dystopian country! The film featured a relatively unknown cast of actors, was made on a modestly small budget, and was based on a best selling book, which was relatively unheard of by those who don’t normally read books. It could be considered a very random film to throw into the release schedule, especially as at the time there were some bigger movies released just before and after (including but not limited to John Carter, 21 Jump Street, Mirror Mirror, and Wrath of the Titans). This random film however would go on to become one of the most talked about films of the last decade!
Directed by Gary Ross, and starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Stanley Tucci, and Donald Sutherland; The Hunger Games is a dystopian action film based on the book of the same name by Suzanne Collins. The film’s plot follows Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), who takes the place of her sister Primrose (Willow Shields), who is chosen as tribute in an arena where children are forced to fight to the death. The relatively unheard of but highly skilled Katniss soon becomes the key target of all the other trained killer children sent to the capitol to take part in the event known as The Hunger Games.
I remember when this film came out. I saw brief images of it in Empire magazine but didn’t take much interest in it. I saw it advertised at my local cinema, gave it a quick look; and like many people thought it was nothing more than a rip-off of Battle Royale. I then went to see it at the cinema, and couldn’t stop thinking about it for about a month. I love this film, it’s one of my all time favourites (not featuring a Giant Lizard with a well known name). I came out of the cinema, loving it so much I ran to the nearest computer at uni, and wrote one of my favourite film reviews. The next day, I went into town and bought the book. I read six chapters, was loving it so much I bought the other two by the following Thursday. I don’t know exactly the positioning of all my favourite films (not featuring non-said Lizard), but I would probably have this film somewhere in the top 10.
As far as the book goes, I had not heard of it once before the film was released. I think a friend of mine had possibly read it, but it never came up in conversation. I think the only time she mentioned it was in a comment on my old blog. It’s hard to describe how or why The Hunger Games is such an amazing movie; it’s just so very well crafted.
Films based on books, can occasionally be a bit generous in their vision of the word adaptation. Sometimes they can be incredibly faithful, with mixed results, often quite long in length. Where as other times, they could just be the same as the book’s title, and filled in with their own creations. The Hunger Games film, is very detailed, and this could be because there is almost nothing left out of it. When I read the book I was so surprised at how much from the book was in the film. The only really missing detail not in the film was the story of the Avox Girl. Everything else was in the film, literally everything!
The film’s budget as mentioned above was pretty low too. Now this again could be down to several reasons. I remember reading many years ago that suggested that the film’s budget was low because Lionsgate had no faith in the film to make much of a return, so gave it a small one. However, one thing I have just seen (on Wikipedia) suggests that the studio struggled financially at the time, due to not turning a profit in five years, and just sort of scrambled to get what money they could to finance it.
One of the more interesting sides of the films production though, is it’s outstanding cast. Some people may like to argue that this film launched the acting careers of it’s main stars. Well, technically, it didn’t. I personally had never heard of Woody Harrelson before this film. To some he was already a household name having appeared in Cheers, Saturday Night Live, Will & Grace, as well as a long list of films. But, sort of like when you buy a new car, once he appears in one thing you do see him in; it’s like he is suddenly in everything. And that’s not a bad thing at all, as he frequently puts on a great show. The same goes again for Elizabeth Banks, who had already been in a good number of films, providing a supporting role in Sam Raimi‘s Spiderman films, as well as another supporting role in Scrubs. But again I had not heard her name come up in much of the things that I watched. But come The Hunger Games, she didn’t necessarily steal the show, more that her character had a tendency to hog the screen to herself, but that was her character. Sort of like the comic relief, but more than that!
The list goes on, more top notch performers who may not have been as well known to others before this film, but already still had long and some illustrious careers. People like Stanley Tucci (who to me was only briefly mentioned in an episode of The Big Bang Theory), Lenny Kravitz, even Josh Hutcherson, who had been acting for about ten years before the first Hunger Games film. It felt like the only real heavyweight on set was Donald Sutherland, as I had at least heard of him, even saw him in a series of adverts for Barclay‘s, and in one rubbish sci-fi horror movie entitled Virus (let’s not talk about it).
Whilst many of these people had already been acting for a while, and to some people were relatively or more well known, you could still try to argue that this film launched the career of it’s lead star Jennifer Lawrence; well, you can’t. Jennifer Lawrence was already starting to make waves in the acting world before this film. In 2010 for instance she received her first Oscar nomination for Best Leading Actress in the film Winter’s Bone. Don’t forget also that in the same year as The Hunger Games; she starred in Silver Linings Playbook, which did win her an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. And The Hunger Games wasn’t necessarily her first blockbuster release either, as one year earlier (2011) she starred in X-Men: First Class (as well as the non-blockbuster psychological drama The Beaver). So, No, The Hunger Games did not launch her acting career, as it had already begun and was already making huge strides. What it did do though was turn her into a household name. And coincidentally (once all the other films in the series were released), she became the highest grossing action heroine of all time!
The Hunger Games may not have launched the careers of it’s stars, but they were picked at the right time, and were infused into what is a strangely weird, and possibly psychadelic experience. It’s an action film, with some family drama, and teenage romantics. But whilst it does have a lot of action, some violence, and some jump out scares, it has it’s peaceful moments too. Things where everything just seems to relax in all the hassle. Scenes such as the moments where Katniss is sitting in the tree, or socializing with Rue (Amandla Stenberg). Its these nice moments that help to highlight the film’s standout scenes, when there is time just to sit back and relax, and just let things be the way they are. Much like the accompanying song Safe and Sound by Taylor Swift.
Don’t get me wrong, it is a film about kids being forced to kill each other, and there was famously a few seconds of blood splatter removed from the UK cut to bring it’s certificate down. But what the film does is keep this in mind, and keep your focus on this. By doing this it starts to set-up what the trilogy becomes, which is about a revolution against the tyrannical regime in charge. It sets up what they are doing, and how people feel about this, but does it to setup the world, and now the world is set up, the next chapter can focus on how it uses this set-up to bring it all down!
I really do adore this film, it’s one of my standout favourites from the last decade. I could go on about this film for a while, but I already have a feeling that this post is long enough, so I’ll leave the rest for another time – watch this space!