Film review: The Hunger GamesBy Kim Francis
March 28, 2012
Amid a marketing frenzy, people seem to be ravenous right now for The Hunger Games.
If you’re not quite sure where this voracious appetite for the film version of the first in a trilogy of books for ‘young adults’ came from, you’re probably outside the target demographic.
The latest page-to-screen tween-to-teen phenomenon may knock spots off its Twilight and Harry Potter rivals but it suffers from a fatal flaw – watching it makes you lament the fact that it’s not made for a more mature audience – even if you are a young adult.
Had it been, it would have been more brutal, more bloody and more hard-hitting. It would have conveyed its points more effectively and it would have been better.
In its favour, it was co-adapted for the screen by its writer, Suzanne Collins, who also co-produced the film, and as such it sticks pretty close to the original story.
It is set in a post-apocalyptic North America, where past rebellions by the 13 poverty-stricken individual districts against the governing body, the Capitol, have left the nation of Panem a war-torn ruin. The Hunger Games picks up the tale some years after the Capitol’s overwhelming victory.
To punish its citizens and as a potent reminder of its authority, the Capitol established the Hunger Games – an annual televised event where a boy and a girl from each of the remaining 12 districts must fight to the death until just one remains.
When Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her younger sister’s place, she must draw on all her pluck, strength and wits to survive. Can she triumph against impossible odds and ever-changing goal posts?
There may be a chance she’ll survive, but in the Hunger Games, there are no winners…
At first glance, The Hunger Games appears to be a tantalising blend of Stephen King’s The Running Man, Japanese shocker Battle Royale and Jim Carrey satire The Truman Show, but it doesn’t measure up to any of these.
Crucially, all these films, which tackle similar themes such as the cult of celebrity and our obsession with reality TV, were made for adult audiences and with these movies front of mind, the potential of The Hunger Games to be great is unavoidably tethered.
The Hunger Games is also spoiled by its over-use of the handheld camera.
Frequently trained on Jennifer Lawrence’s face, and shaking about so much we barely see any of the kill sequences, it’s presumably a deliberate ploy in order to fulfil its remit to gain a 12A certificate. But it’s really flipping vertigo-inducingly off-putting.
Death scenes are consequently insubstantial and disappointing – the film skips through them breezily, meaning the impact is drained from what should be the film’s most significant incidents, and we know so little about the characters beyond Katniss’s district that we barely even care when the next death comes.
The film’s best and most unsettling bits are those moments with hideous show host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) – all super-bright smile, polished skin and bouffant hair – in front of a baying live studio audience, although he’s no match for The Running Man’s Killian.
An ill-fitting, semi-comedic cameo from musician Lenny Kravitz as a stylist messes with the film’s tonal balance, while a chillingly gruesome Elizabeth Banks injects unease.
Much better fare for consumption by its proposed teenage audience than tales of boy wizards and human-vampire love stories, its messages are pertinent and will provide food for thought, even if by the end of the visual banquet, you’re left just a bit unsatisfied.