Friday, 23 March 2012

The Hunger Games

As Twilight comes to an end and Harry Potter becomes a thing of the past, there is an opening for a new teen movie franchise and The Hunger Games seems set to take the crown from the two aforementioned cinematic behemoths.

Set at an undisclosed future date in North America, The Hunger Games has created a world in which the continent is reeling from an uprising some seven decades ago in which twelve districts rose up in defiance of the Capitol and were beaten into submission in a tale with echoes of the American Civil war. As a punishment for the twelve insubordinate districts, each year two children, one boy and one girl, between the ages of 12-18 are randomly selected from each district to fight to the death in an arena, a fight that is shown on television. Of the 24 ‘contestants’ there can only be one to emerge alive. In District 12, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives with her mother and young sister and hunts with her bow to get enough food for her family to eat. When reaping day arrives it is Katniss’ sister Primrose (Willow Shields) who is chosen to represent their district. Fearing her sister has no chance of survival, Katniss herself volunteers to go in place of her young sister and along with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) she travels to the Capitol to begin her training and take part in The Hunger Games.

I was unfamiliar with the source text as I am not a teenage girl and what I read and heard before going in lead me to believe that it was simply Battle Royale for the teen audience. This disappointed me as Battle Royale is one of my favourite films but I still went in to the screening with an open mind. While being probably as close to a Battle Royale remake America will ever dare to make, it is certainly no Battle Royale rip-off. The films look and design is excellent. District 12 feels like the back end of nowhere and its people seem well and truly downtrodden. Before the arrival of people from the Capitol, it feels as though you could be watching people from the late 19th Century. There is no computerised technology and the people seem to live very simple lives. The Capitol on the other hand couldn’t be more different. It is a gleaming, modern city with a futuristic look yet with a somewhat historical Communist iconoclasticism to it. This gives the impression of complete control over its citizens. The people of the Capitol look as though they are on loan from a Terry Gilliam/Tim Burton collaboration with their over the top hair, makeup and costume. Their look couldn’t be more different from that of the District 12 residents.

For me the film is split into two very distinct halves. The first part is the picking and training of Katniss and the others and the second is the Hunger Games themselves. Jennifer Lawrence gives an inspired performance as Katniss. She is fearless and motherly, headstrong and dedicated. She proves here that Winter’s Bone was no fluke and uses this film to show the world what a fantastic actress she is. Joining her in the Capitol is Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) as an outrageous and over the top presenter of the Games. He has got his character down to a tee and is excellent. Also joining Katniss in the Capitol is an almost unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks and Woody ‘Cooler than Sam Jackson in a fridge’ Harrleson, both of whom give fantastic if brief performances. Even Lenny Kravitz pops up and gives a solid performance.

The first part of the film gives us a chilling glimpse into the possibilities of our own future in which reality TV becomes ever more shocking and its contestants will go that step further to win. During the contestants time in the Capitol they are showered with fame and riches but then have to fight literally for their lives in what can be read as a simile for the world of reality TV.  

Before the Games begin, the tension is racked up and Lawrence’s Katniss is seen to be shaking with fear. The violence during the Games is kept to a few brief moments in order to get the certification needed to allow its target audience to see the film. The film makers had to tread a very thin line between the violence of the story and the fact that it is a film aimed at a young audience. For me, they did a good job but came down slightly too conservatively. I understand that here in the UK cuts were made to get a 12A certificate and obviously that is what the film makers wanted but considering this is a film featuring children murdering each other, the fights, gore and violence are quite weak. The Games themselves actually take a back seat to the story of survival and affection between Katniss and Peeta. There are dramatic fight scenes and emotional deaths but it is very much the story of two people willing each other to survive. This part of the film did remind me of Battle Royale and while I believe that film does a much better job of its battle, The Hunger Games creates a dangerous atmosphere which had me gripped. Unfortunately I felt that the Games ending were a bit of a let down but they are obviously setting us up for the second film in the series. The actors portraying the children were all excellent but Amandla Stenberg deserves special mention for her wonderful and emotional portrayal of Rue. She shows character and ability beyond her years.

The director Gary Ross has judged the tone correctly. He hasn’t given it a glossy Hollywood feel but is more melancholic. He has managed not to go too far in the other direction as well and the film remains very accessible. On the downside, considering the nature of what we are seeing, there are very few shocks in the film and all but one of the Games’ participants look far too old to be playing children. One character is often seen but we learn little about him and it is obvious that he will feature in a future film. I haven't read any of the future books but I can already feel another Edward/Bella/Jacob coming on. The film was also not bold enough for me but perhaps they are just setting the groundwork for the next film.   

To sum up, The Hunger Games is an impressive film with great performances throughout and a gripping and interesting story. It creates a world I want to find out more about and look forward to revisiting. It has its flaws and is likely to appeal more to younger viewers but is much stronger than the likes of the early Harry Potter films and is the sort of smart film that young audiences should be watching.    



  1. Great review Tom. This is a colorful and entertaining film, and I was constantly wrapped up in it as a drama. It isn’t the kind of bombastic event we usually get as a franchise blockbuster and for that I’m thankful. It also helps that the ensemble cast is nothing short of amazing either, and that Jennifer Lawrence's career will hopefully totally hit super-start status after this because she's great as well.

    1. Thanks. My review was getting too long so I didn't go into much detail about the acting, but I agree the cast was excellent. I hope this pushes Jawrence into the limelight and I'm sure it will.