The Hunger Games (2012)

“Hope. It is the only thing stronger than fear.”

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth

Set sometime in a dystopian future, America is now a country called Panem, split into 12 districts and ruled by one, the Capitol. Each year these districts supply 2 tributes, a girl and boy between the ages of 12 and 18, to fight to the death on live television. Established to remind the districts about past and failed attempts at a revolt, The Hunger Games are just another way for the Capitol to display their control over Panem.

The 74th reaping sees 12-year old Primrose Everdeen picked as tribute – though her sister Katniss quickly volunteers in place of her. From the boys Peeta Mellark is chosen and together, the two go on to prepare and fight in the 74th annual Hunger Games.

After hearing the announcement of the film I got straight to the books. I had a feeling they were going to be huge, something akin to Twilight (but hopefully much better quality), so I set about making my way through the trilogy. The cast for the film wasn’t announced until I was off on the second book, so this futuristic world and the people in it had already been created in my mind. Fortunately though, I believe the casting choices made for The Hunger Games were fantastic.

Initially it was the three protagonists that interested me most and when I heard of who was playing ‘The Girl on Fire’ I was thrilled. Jennifer Lawrence has always said she chooses the quality of a script over the size of a film, hence her starring in more independent movies in the past. Since her role in Winter’s Bone though, I’ve been willing her to do something more mainstream just so a larger audience could appreciate her talent. I’d seen Hutcherson in The Kids are Alright about 2 years back but couldn’t really remember his character and all I knew about Hemsworth was that he was dating Miley Cyrus. Not great qualities to judge the 2 male counterparts on I’ll admit, but it just made me more anxious to see them in action.

Needless to say, the three of them do great, Lawrence in particular. Her intense and controlled performance allows for her to emerge as this fantastic new heroine, and yet she seems so relatable. Stripped of sexual ornamentation with her bow and arrow, no smoke and mirrors but just a girl on a mission, Katniss epitomises what hasn’t been on our screen for a long time – a strong and empowered female lead. For it to come from a 16 year old girl in a postapocalyptic world too, gives hope to all.

Teamed with this intensity are the slightly aloof, highly strung people of the Capitol. These colourful bunch (quite literally) have stayed so true to the book that I worry people who have jumped straight to the film won’t get it. Most notably Stanley Tucci, the affectionate, eccentric TV presenter – utterly fantastic. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks also make for a fantastic team as District 12 mentors Haymitch and Effie. We also see some other great performances from Wes Bentley and, one which surprised me for the better, Lenny Kravitz.

The only thing that would have improved the film, for me, would have been a bit more gore. In the arena for instance, the killings are rather subtle and some are conveniently out of sight. While it’s obvious why this was done, the book does give more detail about the deaths. Though it must be said that this factor doesn’t really detract from the quality of the film or the story, it would have just given the film a more ‘adult’ tone.

The only worries I have is that the second film isn’t going to stay as true to the books or as ‘non Hollywood’ as the first. As a director Ross was good, but not superb. The camera work was a bit shoddy in some places and I felt like certain qualities and important bits of information were amiss. Still, he wasn’t bad either. Now we’ve learnt that the director is being changed (Ross claims to be ‘too busy’ for the second film) and there is no doubt more money will be pumped into the next instalment. As with a lot of sequels of very successful films, increased investment can sometimes see a degradation in the more basic, humble and simple qualities which made it great in the first place.

Regardless of this, The Hunger Games is a great film that gives promise to the following instalments in the franchise. Carrying more messages about reality TV and our constant desensitisation to violent images, the film stands for so much more than you may initially think. It has already broken many box office records and is quickly becoming one of the biggest films in recent years, most probably one of the biggest of 2012. The cast are all fantastic and make this film even more concrete than I thought possible. I’d also recommend reading the books, they’re just as great .

Star rating:   8/10

Directed by Gary Ross.

Running time 142 minutes.

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