I absolutely loved the Hunger Games books when I read them (you can see my review of the series here if you like) but never quite mustered myself to watch the first film. The trailers left me a little cold – or to be more accurate not cold enough – and having already been through the initially torturous process of learning to love the Potter movies I didn’t feel quite ready to sacrifice another fandom at the alter of the adaptation. However I had heard nothing but good about the sequel Catching Fire over the last week or two so I decided to man up and go and see it. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.
Let’s get my kvetches out of the way first – as predicted all three of the main protagonists are far too pretty and healthy looking. You’ve been down the mines all year have you Gale? That’s funny because you look like you’ve been modelling Levis in a 50s garage. And speaking of Gale – actually why bother? A combination of a chronically underwritten character and an actor who might has well have been a piece of handsomely carved oak meant I really couldn’t care less about him. In fact I generally just forgot he existed. I realise he had a smaller part in the second book too but still, a bit of a waste.
On the other hand I thought Josh Hutcherson was really well cast as Peeta and once I got over her too-pretty face Jennifer Lawrence was actually far steelier and closer to ‘my’ Katniss than I had expected. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair and Jena Malone as Johanna Mason were a treat too.
The biggest surprise for me was that even at a 12A it manages to quite effectively capture the brutality of the books. And although I felt it didn’t always fully realise the larger feeling of desperation out-with the tributes themselves they have more time to expand on that in the next film. Oh, and It made me cry once, but unusually for a movie not at the end.
A little too much lipgloss in the grime for my taste but on the whole a very good adaptation
This series may start as a familiar, if well crafted, dystopia but it ends as one of the most brutal and bloody indictments of the politics of war I have read – be that for the teen demographic or otherwise.
Suzanne Collins’ writing uses fairly broad brush strokes and at times can verge on the more stylized futurism of something like Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series* but ultimately remains grounded in a bone-crunching realness that gives weight to both the story arc and the characters.
Although all three books are consumate page turners (I downed the series in less than a month) it’s not always the adrenaline rush of the standard action page turner. There is an intrinsic, unspoken caveat to these books that anything – especially anything bad – could happen to any of the characters at any time and whilst this makes the action gripping it also creates an uncertainty and anxiousness I rarely feel with hero (or heroine) led stories. There is also a grinding, ‘last-gasp crawl towards the finish line’ quality to a lot of the action that at times has more in common with horror movies, in particular those that veer into torture porn, than anything else. None of these observations are criticisms by the way, they are exactly what makes the satire present in the story arc so powerful.
Only just raising it’s head above the parapet of nihilism it’s not a series for anyone looking for a new Alex Rider but if you like to have your buttons pushed along with your action then I would absolutely recommend it.
In terms of where it sits within the frame of teen writing, and for any parents considering whether it’s appropriate for their kids, I would say it’s definitely at the upper end of the YA spectrum. That’s not to say you have to be 17 to read this – I think I could have tackled it effectively by the age of 14 or so – but it will depend on the individual and their reading habits. It’s not a book that is controversial for the sake of it but it could certainly be a conversation starter for younger readers. I also suspect that under 12 or 13 it would be the emotional language of the personal relationships in the story that might be an issue in digesting the series rather than just the violence.
In short – highly recommended.
*RE: Uglies: I love those books too. Here is my very old review of them.