Hungry for more?

I read The Hunger Games trilogy on my kindle. There are many pros to a kindle (I’m able to carry tens of thousands of pages in the weight of a novella, being among them), but there are also inevitable losses. One of those is the lack of cover art and the inability to be able to flick backwards and forwards within the book’s pages to jog memories around names or see how much is left of the chapter.

Other than being mildly inconvenient and less attractive, the other thing this does, in a Roland Barthes-esque way, is destroy pre-conceptions around the book which can be built up from the blurb on the back, the ‘Richard and Judy Book Club’ permanent sticker on the front or the carefully chosen quotes from famous people. Even after reading all three books, I have trouble remembering the author, to be honest. That would be Suzanne Collins, by the way (and also, good name). Take of that what you will – the kindle/e-reader argument is one to be had another day.

The reason I want to write about books on a film website is that the first of the trilogy, “The Hunger Games” is released in cinemas in the UK on March 23rd, 2012.

Katniss Everdeen is an inhabitant of the 12th District, in a post-apocalyptic world where everything is ruled from the mysterious Capitol and no free movement is allowed, especially outside of the District’s barbed wire electric fences.

The first chapter was ably assisted by the kindle’s blank background, as it very carefully keeps Katniss’ sex hidden. Before I go any further, it is my duty as a reviewer to inform you that SPOILERS MAY LIE AHEAD. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum, of course, but the odd plot item may squirm out. If you prefer to keep unspoiled, I have a summary of the rest of it for you, spoiler free: go and read it! Read them all!

We follow Katniss as she hunts for desperately needed food and returns to the family home to get changed into ceremonial clothes: a dress. Collective gasp as we realise she’s a GIRL. It wasn’t quite that dramatic, but I definitely got the feeling that it was meant to be amazing that she’s a girl who hunts. Has everyone seen Pocahontas?

The ceremony she’s off to is the televised lottery. This sees one boy and one girl aged between 12-18 years old being picked to participate in, yep, you guessed it: “The Hunger Games”; a live, televised concept where each player is imprisoned in a games arena. The games have been going on for decades, and are described as a celebration of how far the districts have come since the apocalyptic disaster that the Capitol saved them from. Essentially, it’s a sacrifice as all but one of the participants will die at the hands of their peers. Only one can be victorious, and that one will return to their district with more food than they can eat. This is emphasised by the fact that the players are called ‘tributes’. In times where everyone is struggling to get enough to eat (apart from those in the Capitol), taking part in the games isn’t a choice – it’s a privilege where the last one standing gets to save their district from starvation.

As far as the film adaptation goes, Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone) is Katniss. She is almost exactly how I envisioned Katniss throughout the books. Despite her rather weak introduction, she is a fantastic character who grows throughout the books and has to face some difficult choices. She’s strong and resilient, a great role model, but most importantly, she doesn’t always get things right, which makes her more accessible. Personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing Lawrence playing Katniss. Likewise for one of her leading men – The Kids are All Right and Little Manhattan’s Josh Hutcherson. He plays blonde baker boy Peeta, and from the still shots I’ve seen he doesn’t look quite as blonde as he’s described, but that’s something I’m willing to let slide. Katniss’ other love interest is dark hunter Gale, played by Thor’s brother, Liam Hemsworth. As far as the casting goes, the only thing I would say is that he doesn’t look lean enough to be Gale, who’s spent his whole life hunting squirrel to survive and always puts his family first.

The three leads are, therefore, strong and well cast. The supporting actors are even better, and include Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci. For Tucci in particular, I will see anything that he’s in. I even saw Burlesque because he was in it. He was worth it (although the rest really wasn’t, and I found myself wishing that Veronica Mars would die in a spoiled bitch accident, just so something would be happening)

None of this sounds very tween friendly, does it? I worry that the trilogy is about adult themes and theories, especially in the later books, around capitalism and socialism, but because it’s about young adults, it will be forced into the 12a bracket. Some of the action in the book is horribly gory, and is described in detail. For example, the Capitol has a weapons system dubbed ‘muttations’ which are cross breeds of animals. One of these is the jabberjay – it looks like a bird but contains a recording device used to catch rebel spies. Another are the wolves which have four inch razors for claws and can stand on their hind legs. They have also been spliced with dead tributes’ DNA, so they have human eyes. (Super spoiler) The last three tributes are attacked by a pack of these wolves, and two manage to climb into a barrel, essentially. One doesn’t, and as he is wearing armour it takes the wolves all night to kill him. The remaining two players can do nothing but listen. I don’t think that’s a suitable 12a material.

So there are two options: make it a 15 certificate or cut out the detail of the book to rein it back in for more family friendly fun. There’s always secret option number 3 – don’t bother changing it but as long as you can’t see blood it’s fine (War Horse, I’m looking at you).

Given the vision that Collins had for The Hunger Games, I am really looking forward to it being brought to the silver screen. I hope that it’s not sanitised for family audiences and that the more subtle themes of the plot aren’t sidelined in favour of more action orientated scenes, but we’ll have to see. On March 23rd. See you in the queue!

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