The Hunger Games

AFTER we said an emotional goodbye to Harry Potter last year (although I expect it will not be a permanent one), and with a (perhaps less fond farewell) to Twilight imminent, the world may be at a loss as to what could fill the book-to-film -series-shaped gap.  But never fear, because a little-known book series has been waiting in the wings for just this opportunity. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins was published between 2008 and 2010, but remained largely under the radar until this year, when it seemed impossible to go anywhere without seeing someone clutching a copy of one of the books, or raving about it on the Internet.

The film of the first book, ‘The Hunger Games’, was released earlier this year, to much critical acclaim, and thus the craze began.  By exploring the effect of media and reality TV on a society not too distant from ours, ‘The Hunger Games’ differs much from its predecessors; it is a lot grittier, aiming for a dystopian view of future America rather than using the ever-popular fantasy slant.  There is also an overwhelming sense that evil is not quite triumphed over, and this adds a dark realism to what could be seen as being a typically teenage series.  Even the romance element of the plot is infected by the artifice that is media hungry culture creates.

This certainly makes it more appealing than the thousands of books churned out every year that are highly Americanised, highly romanticised, and aimed at the kind of teenagers that perhaps need emotional help rather than any form of encouragement – those that frequently find themselves torn between a mysterious vampire and a “hot” werewolf, for example.  ‘The Hunger Games’ is superior to this trend, tackling topics like poverty, brutal political regimes and child soldiers, and blending them with a writing style that is both accessible and gripping, and most importantly not at all patronising, in a book that is currently being read by millions of teenagers across the world, transforming them from squealing tweens to young adults with each page they turn.  The most appealing thing about the book is that it doesn’t romanticise anything – when things go right they are tinged with a sense that it is not permanent, and that they will return to being very wrong soon enough.  The characters are sympathetic and well-developed (finally!), and there are moments when even the most hard-hearted reader may find themselves welling up.  I’m aware that this sounds very clichéd, but it is definitely, to use a totally made-up phrase, unputdownable, and as there are three books in the series it will certainly be more than capable of sustaining our appetite for popular literature for at least a little while.

As you can probably tell, then, I’m more of a book person than a film person.  Not that I don’t enjoy films, I am just very wary when it comes to films that are adaptations of books that I am particularly fond of.  When I went to see ‘The Hunger Games’ film I had only just finished the book, and didn’t have much of an opinion on it, but during the 142 minutes that I was sat in the cinema I developed one.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked the film; it was gripping, suspenseful, and the casting was great.  However, for me there was a lot that the film missed out that is quite necessary to the understanding of the plot; mostly little things, but as a reader, and newly-realised fan, of the book, it was sometimes a bit frustrating.  I spent most of the journey home explaining things to my friends who hadn’t read the book (and probably confusing them a lot more than if I’d been less pedantic and left it alone).  I very much appreciate the fact that films have to leave a lot of detail out in order to fit everything into a limited time frame, and it certainly didn’t spoil the film as such, it just made me wonder how they were going to explain a lot of the future events when they hadn’t introduced them in the first film.  All rambling aside, it was an enjoyable, action-packed and thrilling film that perfectly reflected the mood of the book.  My advice, though (and this goes without saying with regards to any book-to-film adaption) – read the book first.