Friday, 6 April 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

Like Harry Potter or Twilight, The Hunger Games is an extremely popular book franchise which teenagers all over the world claim is like "so totes the best thing ever". As was expected, Hollywood came calling and adapted the first novel in the series into a big-budget blockbuster. It's the biggest cinema earner in 2012 thus far (although big-hitters like The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus are yet to be released) and with its appealing cast, big action sequences and great CGI, it's easy to see why.
The plot sees a futuristic state, Panem, where the inhabitants live across twelve districts with the wealthy Capitol controlling the population. As a form of penance of past uprisings against the Capitol, two teens from each district are randomly selected to participate in the Hunger Games, a reality TV show which sees them contend in a fight to the death against each other in order to produce one winner/survivor. Using fighting, surivival skills and cunning, the youths must outwit each other whilst trying to survive in a hard terrain with the Capitol constantly throwing new challenges and threats at the participants in order to keep the show entertaining. The story's hero, Katniss Everdeen, a tough and experienced hunter, chooses to nominate herself in her young sister's place, and so begins her race for survival.
The plot has been done before, with Battle Royale, Gamer, The Tournament all being of a similar premise, but The Hunger Games certainly has the kiddy-apeal. Firstly, our leads are all easy-on-the-eye all American charmers, with Jennifer Lawrence, Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson and Alexander Ludwig leading the pack amidst a plethora over other attractive kids. It can sometimes look a little too sugary and All American, and by casting such leads impacts the film's genuity, but simultaneously draws in the crowds, so is to be expected with a tweeny franchise.
Unlike Twilight, The Hunger Games actually has a bit of grit, and offers something more for the male viewers. The plot is very rich prior to the titular event taking place, with at least an hour of texture and background revealing some Panem history and a look at the various districts. This works very well in the film's favour, and was quite refreshing to see - a clear sign that Hollywood was looking to do further instalments from the get-go, hence making the first film as textured as possible. The tragic and shocking prospect of a fight to the death is allowed to linger on the mind before the games are reached, and this technique of suspense allows us to really get behind Katniss rather than simply feeling obliged to support a protagonist. The film's "goodies" so to speak, Katniss, Peeta, Gale, Haymitch and Rue are all more believable and understated compared against the villains (aside from Donald Sutherland who is great as the President) such as Cato, Clove, Glimmer, and Seneca Crane who are all caricatures of themselves and are far too transparent to be convincing. Nevertheless, The Hunger Games was hardly going to be the philosphical journey that it's plot perhaps warrants, and still manages to remain in the realm of intelligent action rather than just being pretentious codswollop. Whether it's a comment on reality TV, state control, financial dominance by the few, feminism, or even the class system, it doesn't really matter, because The Hunger Games lets these themes just wash over you rather than ever focussing on any details behind any of them.
The central performance from Jennifer Lawrence (who wowed me in Winter's Bone) was the foundation on which the film rests, although it is the sheer scale of the story which keeps the viewers piling in. Katniss is equal parts love interest and action-hero; although at times shy and withdrawn, she is also stong, motivated and willful - like a young Ripley. Her appearance is sexy yet tough, she is in a way a contradiction, or even an engima for the most part. If it weren't for the formulaic plot of these kids of films, then you'd be left wondering if she could in fact beat some of the tough opposition she's facing - even though she's extremely effective with a bow and arrow, her prowess is at times drowned by her vulnerability. I've been told by fans of the books that the violence had to have been seriously edited to make the 12A certification, which is a shame, as the impact and horror of the plot would have been carried home far better with a bit more gratuity - like Battle Royale. Nevertheless, it's a great one for the kids, and although it's certainly deeper than John Carter, Twilight and Harry Potter, but it still doesn't quite cut it as an adult film. This will be loved by the younger generation of cinema-goers, but keep the older siblings and parents fairly nonplussed.

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