Based on the novel of the same name, this young adult fantasy film is jarring and powerful. It captures the feel of Suzanne Collins’ novel well, even if it doesn’t strictly follow the path.
The first thing one notices about The Hunger Games is that the cinematographic style is close and loose through the opening scenes, which is an artistic flair I wouldn't have expected.
Once the story is truly underway, however, the camera opens up a bit, and feels much less personal. This close style returns whenever the drama runs high for our protagonist, but I was grateful it didn't stick around for every scene, as this would surely have become too jostling.
The colors of the film are simultaneously stark and drab, with each setting of the story mostly grey or beige with a few standout colors.
District twelve is blue and cyan, while the capitol city is pink and purple, and the arena is green and brown. The distinction helps draw the scenes apart properly, and create the mental spaces for each to reside, which is good, since the shifting of settings is the most prominent change from the novel.
In the original story, the reader is trapped in the arena with Katniss. Everything is shown through her eyes, and explained with only her thoughts, and we never see outside. We never know what is going on with anyone outside the arena, with the exception of a few assumptions which Katniss makes about what they must be thinking.
However, in the film, we cut out to see what’s going on in the television studio, the town squares, the gamemakers’ control room, Haymitch’s meetings with sponsors, whatever we need to see to understand. Of course, still, as always in a film adaptation, there are many characters’ motivations which are left unclear or underexplained, since we cannot get into their heads, but for the most part, the film is not an enigma. I understood, especially Katniss’ character much better for knowing the Katniss of the novels, but the subtle hints given are enough, though it may take a second watching to get the deeper drama.
Of course, not every sub-plot could be maintained from the source. Sure, they left in some arcs I would have removed, and removed some arcs I would like to have seen, but it all flows well, and doesn’t feel like there is something actually missing. For those familiar with the book, the biggest sub-plot removed was the side-story about the mute servant girl, and the most interesting added was a minor arc involving the lead Games Maker of The Hunger Games, and President Snow, who, through the setting shifts, was able to take a more active role here.
Collins was a member of the production team for this film, and her hand in the project is clear. While the adaptation is not perfect, the vision of the author comes through loud and clear.
It's not a happy or hopeful film, which reflects the novel just fine. There are few moments which are not sad, and while this makes the few triumphs that much more triumphant, the film as a whole comes off bitter sweet, and when the end rolls around, one knows the world it's not yet a safe place, something made much more clear here than in the novel. The love-triangle-to-come is also more clear here than it was in the first novel, where it barely seemed to register for any of the characters.
This is certainly not a story which sits alone. This first film is great and artistic and tear-jerking, but is only the beginning of the story. If the remaining two films can carry out the promises made by this one, The Hunger Games will one day be a classic film trilogy, as well as an incredible example of how novels should be adapted.