Hunger Games movie exceeds expectations

After more than a year of a viral promotional campaign, The Hunger Games was released in domestic theaters this past weekend. Based on the popular young adult book series of the same name, the movie opened with rave reviews from critics and set a record for highest grossing revenue of any non-sequel film and the fifth highest revenue for opening day.

While recent movie adaptations of a book series aimed at a young adult audience have been mostly lackluster (The Golden Compass, Twilight, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians come to mind), The Hunger Games is not only a faithful adaptation, but conveys the story in a more fluid, enjoyable manner than the book does.

The Hunger Games revolves around Katniss — who lives in the dystopian country Panem that is divided into 12 districts and a capitol state — and her experience as a competitor in the Hunger Games. The games are a sporting event in which one girl and one boy, called tributes, are chosen from each district to compete in a battle royale to the death.

The biggest change from page to screen was the narrative shift. While the book was told from a first-person perspective, the movie embraces a broader narrative, extending beyond Katniss to the minor characters. The effect is brilliant. While the huge amount of expository dialogue Katniss unloads to the reader serves its purpose in the novel, excessive cutaway scenes and an overuse of voiceover would have killed the pacing of the movie, which remained tense and quick throughout.

The broader narrative also allowed the movie to explore other characters’ perspectives, which significantly added to the experience. Most notable were the scenes in which the audience views the Gamemakers, who design and control the event, creating changes within the game. These changes included coercing tributes to move in certain directions and altering the weather. The movie also included scenes in which President Coriolanus Snow interacts with Head Gamemaker Seneca Crane, which lend a deeper understanding of the politics of the Hunger Games.

Despite these changes, it was the sound and visuals that stood out most in the movie. While the book relied completely on Katniss’ narrative to create tension, the movie utilized sound. The score was sparse and mainly used for expository scenes and during the conclusion. The games themselves were largely without accompanying background music, as were scenes such as Katniss’ official interview. This resulted in an uneasy atmosphere that was only compounded by the camera work, which utilized quick perspective changes and occasional “shaky-cam.”

Of course, the movie was not without fault. To be fair, this mostly stemmed from the necessary changes in narrative. Much of the information that Katniss reveals in the book, such as historical information on Panem and her own thoughts, is left out. In some cases — such as her relationship with Peeta, the other tribute from her district — this ambiguity is a surprisingly welcome change. But this largely results in characters feeling less fleshed out, to the point where some characters are nameless throughout the film.

While reading The Hunger Games, it is hard not to imagine it as a film, considering the archetypal characters and the gripping narrative. The movie lives up to this expectation and, in some ways, even surpasses it.