Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Hunger Games

2012, 12, Directed by Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci

Teenagers placed in peril amongst a dangerous world unfamiliar to our own, with possible love triangles and bursts of action to boot. It would be no effort to dismiss The Hunger Games as the new Twilight on the block with the wave of the hands and an eye-roll. That would be a grave mistake.
Adapted from Suzanne Collins’ mega-selling trilogy opener of the same name (the author of which shares co-screenwriting duties, eliminating sub-plots enjoyable for reading in your back garden, but best left omitted on screen for the sake of your bladder), Gary Ross directs his depiction of District 12, one of many that comprise a dystopian North America after a rebellion gone wrong – albeit one at the lower end of the food chain, if you will. With immediacy, we are informed of the context of this world and how said rebellion brought about the titular Hunger Games, an annual event whereby two teenagers from each District are hand-picked to combat each other in an arena until one ‘lucky’ survivor remains – and it just so happens that this event is a television viewing phenomenon all the world round; Big Brother meets Battle Royale.
Katniss Everdeen is with who we are led through this experience with, slumming it out in her under-privileged District, killing squirrels in exchange for a single slice of bread. Winter’s Bone 2? Strangely not far off the mark, due to the ideal casting of up-and-coming superstar Jennifer Lawrence. She is our eyes, our ears. It becomes near impossible to ponder any other young actress (she’s 20) who it would be as little effort to endure 142 minutes with. Whatever Lawrence conveys, the audience feel its full effect, meaning that Katniss will linger in the memory once you’ve left the multiplex. This isn’t to say that there are not a few more aces in the pack: Stanley Tucci as the facially-tweaked pristine host of festivities, Caesar Flickerman), does his best smarmy, yet somehow charming grin ensuring you want to shake his hand and punch his face in equal measure; Elizabeth Banks proving she has strings to her bow as Effie Trinket, the fame obsessed ‘celebrity’ who gets to pick the tributes’ names out at the Reaping; and Woody Harrelson as drunken, obnoxious previous District 12 winner, Haymitch. All do oddball very well, and when this is combined with Gary Ross’ off-kilter shaky camerawork, the entire product feels largely offbeat. In terms of making The Hunger Games stand out from the crowd, Ross nails it.
Structured in such a way that the running time flies by (a few other films could benefit from this achievement) this invariably leads to some would-be classic moments feeling rushed, scrambled and not nearly as emotive as they should be. Granted, for a film that includes 24 teenagers fighting to the death, time cannot be delegated in forming an attachment with each one – especially when Katniss is our decided heroine. But delegation should have occurred more effectively with Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta Mellark, Katniss’ fellow District 12 tribute. His true intentions provide much speculation in the book, but seem to have been somewhat misplaced in the translation to screen making it difficult to form any opinion on the guy.
In any other case, these squabbles would hinder the enjoyment of the film. But here we have a blistering opener and a successful introduction to the universe of Panem. The beauty of The Hunger Games’ potential stems from the way in which a widespread appeal combines with questions that arise being relevant to today’s society. Rather than being conducted in an obvious manner, instead it will leave thoughts strong in your mind afterwards.
The Hunger Games will leave you peckish for more.