The Hunger Games


Written by Alison Potter
25 Sunday 25th March 2012

Young Katniss Everdene (Jennifer Lawrence) has the pleasure of being the very first volunteer in The Hunger Games, as she nominates herself to prevent her younger sister from being taken to represent their district in the deadly competition. 

Although there are no Twilight-style vampires or Harry Potter-esque wizards, The Hunger Games follows a similar formula of a self-sacrificing young protagonist battling against a higher dark power.

Thankfully, the Oscar-nominated Jennifer Lawrence has a lot more range than the underwhelming Kristen Stewart, and she puts in a tour-de-force performance as the heroine Katniss. Which is a good job really, as the audience are with Katniss for every blood-soaked second of her ordeal in the gladiatorial arena.

Director (and co-screenwriter) Gary Ross constructed The Hunger Games from a subjective standpoint, integrating POV shots and handheld camerawork seamlessly into the film’s action scenes, making for an immersive and visceral experience.

Ratcheting up the tension throughout, there’s definitely a fair few nail-biting moments, which are emphasised by Ross’ quick disorientating cuts. However his blurry, thrashing style is occasionally distracting to the point that you feel like you’re watching the action from the confines of a washing machine.

The story is reminiscent of the teen carnage of Japanese thriller Battle Royale, and although The Hunger Games doesn’t attempt the same level of gory theatrical violence, it’s still pretty bloodthirsty for a PG-13. However all credit is due to the direction of Ross, whose skillful manipulation of the camera implies physical carnage without actually showing much bloodshed.

Although the film is neatly adapted from the best-selling novel, there are a few problems with translating the text to the big screen. At several points the narrative relies on The Hunger Games’ host Stanley Tucci to provide back-story, and his ‘Basil Exposition’ character often feels needlessly clunky.

Lenny Kravitz is also a bit of spare part, and judging from his acting ability in this and his big screen debut in Precious, he only seems able to play himself, albeit this time with gold eyeliner.

Without a doubt the biggest scene-stealer is the criminally underrated Woody Harrelson, who plays Haymitch, a previous Hunger Games victor and mentor to Katniss. With a drink perpetually in hand, he resembles an alcoholic washed-up Backstreet Boy, a comparison further reinforced by his greasy blonde curtains. 

The Hunger Games does a good job of establishing The Capitol, a believably vivid futuristic world of excess, which is presented with a wry apocalyptic edge similar to that of Blade Runner and The Running Man.

Despite this essentially being a teenage franchise, The Hunger Games intelligently addresses socio-political and economic issues, contrasting the extravagant, over-preening Capitol ruling-class with the impoverished populations in the outlying districts, who appear to live as simply as the Amish (complete with Little House On The Prairie-style clothing).

During the deadly game, both rich and poor are glued to the action, and it’s this unsettling mix of entertainment and bloody violence that stays with you long after seeing the film.

No doubt a commentary on the mainstream media’s increasingly bloodthirsty coverage of war and other atrocities, as well as the ever-growing predilection for mindless reality television, The Hunger Games is a timely, Orwellian view of our potential future, although uniquely seen through the eyes of a sixteen-year-old girl.

Ultimately, this is a sci-fi thriller with depth, intelligence and pulse-racing action. Whilst not groundbreaking cinema, it’s undeniably entertaining and a world away from other teen novel adaptations. Just make sure you don’t see it on a full stomach.

The Hunger Games is out now on general release

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