When another film adapted from a popular book is released at the cinema, I sometimes think to myself, I really should read more books. Then other times I think no, this is great, you have no knowledge of what’s to come and, maybe more importantly, won’t be judging whether or not the film has ruined a literary masterpiece. Fortunately for me, that was the case with The Hunger Games, aside from the film details, trailer, plus the press about the “next big thing” I was a series newbie.
It may not come as much of a surprise that I am a Hunger Games newbie, after all I am 40 years old and the book series by Suzanne Collins sits firmly on the Teen/Young Adult bookshelves. Add to that the 12A film rating and this film may have passed me by – just like the Twilight Saga – however, the somewhat epic trailer, intriguing premise, disturbing vision of the near future and buzz around town, peaked my interest enough to watch this film and I am certainly glad I did.
If you are not familiar with the story let me give you a quick run through.
Set in the near future, an ecological disaster followed by civil war paves the way for a totalitarian regime. The ruling Government of “Panem”, what remains of North America, resembles the Roman Empire, the well-fed elite in the Capitol condemns the populations of 12 poverty-stricken districts that surround it to hard labour. As punishment for the rebellion every year the Capitol will select, by lottery, a Boy & Girl from each district as “Tribute” to fight in The Hunger Games, a gladiatorial like contest to the death. When Katniss Everdeen’s (Jennifer Lawrence) little sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is chosen Katniss volunteers in her place. Along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her male counterpart, she will be trained to survive and win against the other competitors. Unfortunately for them, their can only be a single victor.
It’s a stomach-churning moment as all the Districts 12-18 years olds put on there finest clothes and present themselves with the possibility of selection, you can’t help but be moved by what is effectively a lottery of death for children. Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant as Katniss she is completely believable in the role, shifting effortlessly from strong to emotional, scared to courageous, you really believe you are taking this unwanted journey with her, feeling every emotion along the way.
As the film moves from District to the Capitol the tempo picks up, as does the colour palette. Gone are the jaded blues/grey dull colours of the Districts replaced by a palette that more resembles The Wizard of Oz when it goes from Black & White to Technicolor. Lush bright colours are abundant, towering architecture as far as the eye can see, the glitz and glamour of an overindulged city living of the fat of the land where ridiculous hairstyles are the order of the day. Jean Paul Gaultier would be in his element.
Along the way we are introduced to a solid cast of several key characters. Firstly Liam Hemsworth, Katniss’ close friend and hinted love interest, who’s screen time is all rather brief to be sure. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) who plays our duos reluctant mentor, tasked with training Katniss & Peeta in the art of combat and survival. An unrecognisable Elizabeth Banks as the flamboyant Effie Trinket a sort of chaperon figure. Cinna the low key stylist played by (Cameo that I won’t spoil – but when you say to yourself, is that? Yes it is!). Wes Bentley as the ruthless Gamemaker Seneca Crane, closely conspiring with President Snow (the ever fantastic Donald Sutherland) to ensure that all goes in their favour. Finally there is the wonderful Stanley Tucci who gives the stand out performance as Caesar Flickerman the host of The Hunger Games televised show and scene stealer extraordinaire.
As Katniss & Peeta develop their skills, and try to come to terms with the inevitable fact that only one can win – although truth be told this doesn’t really seem to play much on anybodies mind – we are introduced to the other Tributes and it’s clear that in some instances they’ve got there work cut out, most notably in the form of Alexander Ludwig’s Cato, a towering brute and Career Tribute. It’s during this part of the film that the pace slows a little, maybe to lead us into the Games full force or maybe just because it’s a little samey with all the weapons, target practice and showmanship as we’ve already established the characters earlier.
It isn’t to long before we are back on track and the Games begin. As mentioned this is a 12A so the gore and violence that we all anticipate is toned down nicely, Ross deals with the obvious nasties with some fancy camera work and muted sound, sure there is a splash of blood but you’re not seeing the opening of Saving Private Ryan – I have it on good authority that the book is gorier.
As we flit between the Capitol, the District and the Games Arena you can’t help but feel a range of emotions. Fear and distress for the Gamers, horror for there families and contempt for the Capitol dwellers that can’t get enough of this cross between The X-Factor and Roman Gladiators. It’s all remarkably well done considering the nature of the story.
Visually the film looks great, its use of CGI although grand don’t in anyway compete with the heart of the story, they are a vehicle that keeps the film moving along but the strength and depth come from the actors themselves. The relationship between Katniss & Peeta, for me, doesn’t quite play out, I understand the nature of it, but just didn’t get the same sense of conviction from Josh Hutcherson as from Jennifer Lawrence.
The Hunger Games is good solid entertainment, potentially pitched at the wrong audience as I am sure most Teens/Young Adults will be seeing it regardless, those falling outside of that category may not think it’s for them. Give it a try I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I would say that the trailer does position the film as somewhat “epic” in nature. I’m guessing to compete with the likes of John Carter or Wrath of The Titans. However, this is a bit misleading, but in a good way, the film is certainly grand but it’s all about the story and characters not about the sweeping scenery and CG cities.
All in all I very much enjoyed The Hunger Games and am hopeful that we see a sequel and even a trilogy. Now all I have to do is decide if I should read the books first or not.
The Hunger Games is released on Friday 23rd March 2012