The Hunger Games

24 Mar

I’ve sat through a lot of ‘young adult’ adaptations over the past few years – from the mediocre Harry Potter series to the plain awful Twilight saga – and The Hunger Games trilogy, adapted from the bestselling novels by Suzanne Collins, is being touted as their successor in the business of harvesting the pocket money of so-called ‘tweens’. However, almost shockingly, The Hunger Games is actually good. I’d even go a bit further than that – it’s great!

Directed by Gary Ross (Seabiscuit), The Hunger Games is set in the futuristic, dystopian nation of Panem, named after the Roman method of subduing a population into harmless docility ‘panem et circenses’ or ‘Bread and Circuses’. Here, the entertainment takes the form of the titular Hunger Games where two young citizens (one male, one female) of each district, picked at random, are sent to participate in a televised fight to the death. The plot is quite evidently influenced by everything from the myth of Theseus to the aforementioned Ancient Rome to, controversially, the Japanese novel/film/manga Battle Royale. However, the film more than stands its ground, perhaps because its critique of reality television and themes dealing with oppressive, manipulative governments are worryingly timely.

The Hunger Games focuses on Katniss Everdeen, brilliantly played by Jennifer Lawrence who was Oscar-nominated for her role in Winter’s Bone, who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister and represent District 12 in the arena. Katniss is one of the most memorable heroines of recent memory – a relatable character who’s plight, whether it is the struggle keeping her family alive back home or her struggle to survive in the games, is emotionally engaging. In a time where heroines seem to purely exist as psychosexual objects, Katniss is a breath of fresh air. Joining her as the male tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) who, unbeknownst to Katniss, has harboured a crush on her for several years – which, when revealed, clearly doesn’t please Katniss’ friend and hunting partner Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

Stylistically, the film is very impressive. Director Gary Ross has managed to envelope the film in an atmospheric malaise – an ominous tone of dread that manages to accentuate the most important themes that The Hunger Games deals with. In order to make the film suitable for it’s target PG-13/12A audience, the violence has been toned down but this has the effect of necessitating some stylish techniques in order to properly get the message across. The use of sound – or lack of – tautly conveys the fear and disorientation Katniss experiences; the handheld camera work during the games implants you into the arena, giving you an insight into the horrifyingly sadistic government tool as a contestant would experience it and the editing of certain scenes, such as the rebellion in District 11, made me think that it was Battleship Potemkin for the modern teenager.

The only negative I have regarding the film is that the CGI looked surprisingly primitive. In 2012, where entire films can be constructed from CGI, there really is no excuse for not managing to conjure up a convincing fire. The only explanation that I have is that they ran out of money but there was never any question that this film was going to be a resounding box-office success. However, unusually, this film is a blockbuster that is intelligent, interesting and very well-made. Time will tell if Ross manages to successfully adapt the two sequels which, as books, were noticeably weaker than the first entry but – as the menacing President Snow (Donald Sutherland) chillingly states, hope is the only thing stronger than fear.

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