The Hunger Games: A Script Review

The Hunger Games - Mockingjay Pin
Photo via The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games

Authors: Suzanne Collins; Current Revisions by Billy Ray (from the novel by Collins)

Draft: First Draft; August 7, 2010

It seems like every few days we get yet another casting update on the highly-anticipated adaptation of the first book in Suzanne Collins’s trilogy. Apparently the books are really popular, and yet, I had never heard of them until the adaptation was announced, so that’s another one I can add to the list which already includes other series like Twilight and Percy Jackson. However, the difference here is that The Hunger Games actually has a very intriguing premise and has potential to be a really fun movie.

Let’s go ahead and cover the basic story. The Hunger Games is set in a future where North America has been decimated and now survives as 12 districts which make up a nation known as Panem. At one time, there were 13, but after the districts rose up in rebellion against the capital, the thirteenth district was destroyed while the others were merely subdued. To remind them of their mistake, the capital forces the remaining 12 districts to undergo a televised sporting event every year known as the Hunger Games in which two young people from each district (one boy and one girl) are chosen to fight each other in a large arena until there is only one left alive.

At the beginning of the story, we meet the main character, Katniss, and her best friend friend and hunting partner, Gale, as they are hunting for food, which has become scarce. We quickly discover that Katniss is quite good with a bow as she catches several animals in a forest that she’s not supposed to be in, but she does what she has to do to get food for her sister Prim and her mother. Other items she simply trades for at a kind of local flea market.

The announcement for the 74th Hunger Games is almost upon them. Prim worries that her sister will be chosen while Katniss tries to reassure her that there’s not much of a chance of it happening. The day of the announcement arrives where the two contestants chosen are Peeta, a boy who has a bit of a crush on Katniss, and Prim. In a quick decision, Katniss volunteers herself to go in her sister’s stead. She and Peeta are quickly whisked away to begin their training for the upcoming game.

Their trainer is a man called Haymitch Abernathy, who is the only survivor of the game to come from District 12. The problem is that he’s a heavy drinker and doesn’t seem to be providing much help for these two. Once they arrive in the capital, they finally get a chance to see the 22 other people they will be competing against. Some of them look like tough opponents while others show the fear that most of them are feeling. Katniss and Peeta aren’t used to all of this attention they are getting from interviewers, beauticians, and those who help run the games. This all leads up to the start of the game where they will be forced to use their instincts to survive. They rise up into the vast forested arena with the whole nation of Panem watching, and then the game begins. Who will be left standing when all is done?

Granted, its premise is not original at all as it’s already been done very similarly in Kinji Fukasaku‘s masterpiece Battle Royale (based on the book by Koushun Takami), but this was still a great read. It’s actually a sort of cross between Battle Royale (for the kids fighting to the death in a game element) and The Running Man (for the game show element). I find it very amusing that Collins said she came up with this idea while she was channel surfing between a reality game show and footage from the Iraq War (yeah, and I came up with a Godzilla-esque story while watching a show about famous cities of the world and then switching over to When Animals Attack).

As per usual, let’s go ahead and look at all of those recent casting announcements. Starting with the main character, we have Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss. We’ve already gotten a look at her in her outfit for the game, so we know she already looks the part. I was one of the few who didn’t enjoy her breakout film Winter’s Bone, but her Oscar-nominated performance was pretty good, and was a good preparatory role for what her character has to go through in The Hunger Games. Both characters have stern determination toward accomplishing their goal whether it be finding her father to help her family, or surviving a death match against 23 other competitors, again to help her family since whoever wins the game gets very special treatment. This seems to be excellent casting.

Up next, we have Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, Katniss’s friend in the game. Hutcherson has had parts in smaller movies, but last year, he had a rather memorable turn in the excellent film The Kids Are All Right, where he played a kid going through emotional changes after finally meeting his biological father, who ends up making a bigger disturbance in the family than he thought he would. As Peeta, he’s going to have to be able to portray emotional changes as well. We know early on that he has a crush on Katniss, which continues to develop as the game progresses. If his performance in Kids is any indication, he should do just fine in the role.

Then there’s Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy. This is one of the best casting choices they could have made. I had heard that he had been cast in the role prior to reading the screenplay, so of course, I pictured him in the role, and while this can be hard to do for some actors, it was no problem to do so for this pairing. Harrelson has already proved that he’s an excellent actor having earned two Academy Award nominations for his roles in The People vs. Larry Flynt and The Messenger. In a way, both of these roles will help him with playing Haymitch. Larry Flynt had to stand up to authority regarding his magazine and free speech, while his character in The Messenger has to live with doing a job that he’d rather not be doing (delivering death notices) and then breaking three years of sobriety because of it.

Other smaller roles in the film include Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, who’s a reporter that interviews the tributes (as the participants in the game are called). I can’t recall a role in which Tucci has disappointed me. Even when he’s in complete garbage like Burlesque, he becomes the one good thing about it as he’s always a delight to see. Wes Bentley is set to play Seneca Crane, who is basically the headman in charge of running the game. I mainly remember Bentley as the psycho from the film P2 where he really got to show how crazy he can be. The role of Seneca is much more reserved and is a lot more about having a kind of evil, threatening presence about him. Hopefully Bentley will be able to emit such a presence for the character.

Finally, in the most recent casting announcement, we have Donald Sutherland as President Evander Snow, whose presence in this screenplay totals to a little over one page, though his role apparently becomes larger in the subsequent books. Sutherland’s another one of those actors who’s always a delight to see, even when he’s involved in a questionable project. Even though he’s not in the first story for very long, it’s easy to picture him in the part for that short time. The role will also be one that requires presence, which a veteran actor like Sutherland certainly has.

While I mentioned that the story was very similar to Battle Royale, there are some key differences in the way the game is played. First off, you may recall that the kids in BR had to wear exploding collars. They were also given bags containing water, an item (whether it was a weapon or a tool like binoculars), and a map so that they could mark down the danger zones. The Hunger Games are played a little more freestyle. They are set loose into the area where a giant cornucopia containing weapons, food, and drinking vessels is placed in the center, so it’s first come, first serve. There are no danger zones, no exploding collars, just opponent versus opponent with whatever weapon they can get their hands on.

There is also no apparent time limit. In BR, the kids had three days to get down to one or else every one of them would be killed. These particular Hunger Games go on for eight days before they’re over. However, the gamesmakers don’t like it when there’s nothing going on (i.e. no one’s getting killed for long periods of time), so even though they’re not supposed to interfere, they cause certain things to happen to spice up the entertainment value for the folks viewing at home.

The story itself has plenty of excitement, particularly in the second half which is when the game is played. The first half is taken up with character introductions and includes a good amount of development for the characters. When the game begins, so does the madness, turning this into a fast-paced page-turner. In fact, the entire script felt like it was pretty fast-paced. That first half of character introductions as well as an introduction to the world they live in was a very interesting read, making it go by pretty fast, despite the fact that not a lot happens.

The game itself becomes a rather unpredictable ride with characters dropping left and right at first with a slower decrease after that. The dialogue in the first half is enough to get us intrigued about the characters whereas in the second half it’s their actions that become more important. That’s not to say dialogue doesn’t play an important role in the second half as well, on the contrary, there are some very important exchanges between Katniss and Peeta as the game progresses. It’s just that it becomes hard to say much when your life is threatened every few minutes by fire, insects, knives, and bows among other things.

It’s a good 128 pages long, but the excellent mix of characters, story, and action made this a quick read. These elements will likely please fans of the book as well as those who had never heard of them before this adaption, like me. The ending leaves it at a bit of a cliffhanger, but that was no surprise as there are still two more books to go in the trilogy. There has also been very recent news that there are plans to turn this series into four movies instead of three, but it’s unclear whether they plan to split up book two or three. If they turn out to be as fun a read as this was, then I look forward to reading/seeing them too.

As for this first part, after reading this script my anticipation has gone way up. The film has jumped onto my list of highly-anticipated films of 2012, which is already shaping up to be one hell of a year with The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit: Part 1, a new James Bond film, and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter among others coming out. 2012 can’t get here fast enough.

Score: 8/10

  • Pros:
    • Good blend of interesting characters, an unpredictable story, and exciting action
    • A good amount of development for the characters and story
    • It’s a fast-paced read
  • Cons:
    • The premise is not exactly original

Filming on The Hunger Games started last week and is due to be released on March 23, 2012.

Check out my other script review on another hot Hollywood project, Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino.

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