Reviews

The Hunger Games

4

Jennifer Lawrence hits the bullseye…

Is it the new Twilight? Is it faithful to the book? How violent is it? What’s up with Woody Harrelson’s hair? No, yes, pretty violent and Lord only knows.
 
Now we’ve got the big questions out the way, a quick catch-up for those wondering if The Hunger Games is ITV’s follow-up to The Biggest Loser. No. It’s the feverishly anticipated adap of the first in Suzanne Collins’ teen-book trilogy, set in a post-apocalyptic US (now called Panem) where the problems of maintaining civil order, keeping the youth in line and what to watch on TV all have the same solution: The Hunger Games, a yearly gladiatorial contest where two dozen randomly selected 12-to-18-year-old ‘Tributes’ are forced to fight to the death until only one remains. And it’s on freeview!
 
Gary Ross’ film kicks in like a futuristic redux of Winter’s Bone, with Jennifer Lawrence again being the glue holding together a fatherless, near-penniless household. Already there’s portent in the air, even before a government hovercraft thunders overhead.

And there’s a gut-wrench right around the corner, when 16-year-old Katniss’ (Lawrence) baby sis Prim (Willow Shield) is plucked from the hat for the 74th Games. A horrified Katniss volunteers to take her place, and it’s off to the Capitol, flanked by her fellow Tribute, baker boy Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)…
 
It’s a bold, bracing opener, Ross setting out his stall with a sobriety and austerity that may curveball viewers expecting event-movie gloss (or anyone who saw the dipped-in-honey Seabiscuit). The music’s minimal, the lensing indie-styled (fly-on-the-wall, intimate, herky-jerky), the colours cold.
 
Brighter hues await in the Capitol – decadent seat of the government’s power, where the fashion police hold no sway – but Ross, like his heroine, isn’t seduced by the glitz. Claims that the story’s told entirely from Katniss’ POV prove exaggerated; although, since one of the cutaways involves some fearsome riot action, we’ll let it slide.

Still, the camera does mostly cling to Katniss, requiring a Herculean amount of heavy lifting from Lawrence. She bears the load. Stoical or heart-on-sleeve, afraid or defiant, the starlet hits the mark. Factor in archery skills to make Robin Hood soil his Lincoln greens and you have Katniss as Collins intended.
 
Fidelity to character is one thing; but what about the aggro? Ross has his work cut out honouring the novel’s savagery without alienating the box office. The BBFC slashed seven seconds of spilt blood from the UK version.

There’s still plenty of what the censor calls ‘injury detail’ plus enough clever editing to make you feel the pain. Prime example? The grand, grisly start to the Games themselves, where it’s everyone vs everyone and bodies drop like dominoes. Ross mutes the sound effects and chops the carnage into almost subliminal flashes, avoiding explicitness without losing the horror.
 
Other problem areas for a film adap – from the faux-flames of Katniss’ Capitol dress to the beastly Muttations – are navigated with aplomb.

Lawrence’s shining star is orbited by other casting successes. Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci amuse as media grotesques Effie Trinket and Caesar Flickerman, also tying for Best Worst Wig/Make-Up.

Wes Bentley is smoothly ruthless as gamemaker Seneca Crane, quietly conspiring with Donald Sutherland’s slyly sadistic President Snow. The glory-hungry Career Tributes – ie the cool kids – are a suitably hateful mob, headed by Alexander Ludwig’s sneering Cato.

Lenny Kravitz (Katniss’ sympathetic stylist) probably shouldn’t start clearing space on his awards shelf, but you can’t have everything.
 
What falters most in the journey from page to screen is Collins’ blistering pace. It’s a long movie, and Ross is in no rush. Act 2 grinds us through basic training, Katniss and Peeta wrestling with their weaknesses and finding new strengths.

There’s also a lot of thousand-yard staring, plus the shabbily charismatic Haymitch Abernathy, played by a shabbily charismatic Woody Harrelson. Which sounds like a good thing, except his Games victor-turned-mentor is here less intriguing enigma than Basil Exposition.
 
Things accelerate when we enter the deadly arena, Ross confidently juggling action with emotion. There’s shock, suspense and self-sacrifice. There’s also roaring fireballs, mutant wasps and death by javelin. The most moving scene in the book becomes the moving scene in the film.

Meanwhile, the Katniss/Peeta relationship develops and deepens, firming up the love triangle (with Liam Hemsworth as Gale, our heroine’s best friend back home) that’s captivated readers as much as the violence and social commentary (on class conflict, media manipulation, government control, how we’ll be wearing our hair after the bomb drops).

If the chemistry between Lawrence and the brooding Hutcherson isn’t quite sizzling yet, then there are three more films for it to catch fire.
 
What’s remarkable is the lack of cheese. Tacky effects, corny dialogue and creaky performances are all shown the door. We repeat: not the new Twilight.

If not wholly true to Collins’ words (missing in action: the mayor’s daughter, the Avox girl), it gets the spirit bang on; like its source, this is both credible science fiction and a teen tale that doesn’t patronise or pander to its audience.

What’s more, the grit, gravity and empathy on display fuse into something fresh. There’ve been many, many survival-as-sport movies – The Most Dangerous Game, Punishment Park, Battle Royale, Series 7: The Contender - but The Hunger Games finds new ways to play.

Verdict:

A faithful adap, a grown-up teen movie and flaming good entertainment. The big test for the franchise lies ahead with the uneven second and third books. But on this showing, the odds are in its favour.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • murphy

      Mar 16th 2012, 6:55

      Series 7: The Contenders.

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    • FBPBartlett

      Mar 16th 2012, 8:41

      Surely I am missing something - Battle Royale - one of the greatest Japanese films ever made?

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    • FBPBartlett

      Mar 16th 2012, 8:41

      Surely I am missing something - Battle Royale - one of the greatest Japanese films ever made?

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    • FBPBartlett

      Mar 16th 2012, 8:44

      Battle Royale sypnosis - In the future, the Japanese government captures a class of ninth-grade students and forces them to kill each other under the revolutionary "Battle Royale" act. AND RELEASED IN 2000!

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    • QuietLife

      Mar 16th 2012, 8:57

      Re-watched Battle Royale only last week and it si truly one of my favourite films ever. This sounds like a decent stab at yet another teen series that had past me by so may well give it a watch at some point. Also, good call @murphy I had forgotten all about Series 7. Awesome little nugget that.

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    • MattMaytum

      Mar 16th 2012, 9:35

      @murphy - Dagnabbit! We've been watching too many US TV boxsets... Amended now.

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    • MikeyRix

      Mar 16th 2012, 11:23

      @FBPBartlett - You haven't missed it, but you're the billionth person to mention it -_-

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    • Hadouken76

      Mar 16th 2012, 15:08

      Whaa ? No-one mentioned Running Man?

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    • joker16

      Mar 16th 2012, 17:17

      I have never read the book, and have no desire to, but from what I understand, the book deals with some important dark themes about violence as entertainment. It seems like all of that was thrown out the window and what you're left with is a PG-13 action film in which the violence (referred to as "action") is meant to be entertaining and exciting. This is the kind of "adaptation" that should be subjected to criticism from fans of the source material, not films like the recent The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, which was unfairly criticized (before it was released) as a cash grab American remake. Of course, in the end, it turned out to be much better (and more faithful) than the Swedish version. But people are basically stupid so The Hunger Games will make a massive amount of money and the endless sequels will commence.

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    • Hadouken76

      Mar 17th 2012, 0:27

      Bet the last book gets made into 2 film. Pah.

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    • Sykes

      Mar 18th 2012, 1:18

      Hunger Games is a rip off of Battle Royale, blah blah blah!! i can't wait to see this movie :D I've read the book and love the characters, and when they come alive on the big scream its beyond awesome.

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    • writerdave87

      Mar 18th 2012, 2:17

      I could film my own slowly drying poop and it would live up to the Condemned and the Arena. Awful, awful films.

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    • joker16

      Mar 18th 2012, 3:18

      @writerdave I laughed...

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    • writerdave87

      Mar 18th 2012, 22:19

      No what's funny is that you think The Condemned and Arena are good. Especially considering your prediliction for laying into people you perceive to be misogynist, Arena is spectacularly crass and offensive towards women (literally all women are in the film for is to take their clothes off. That's it). You seriously need to develop some taste.

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    • joker16

      Mar 19th 2012, 3:59

      The irony of Dalidab telling people to "get a life" was not lost on me.

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    • ChrisWootton

      Mar 21st 2012, 12:51

      Obviously there are similarities to Battle Royale and several other movies (there was a good one with Michael Dudikoff that I can't remember the name of.. although its probably s**t now) but the plot is completely different. I haven't read the books but this is one I'll definitely check out at some point.. looks pretty good.

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    • mattrobbo69

      Mar 23rd 2012, 13:50

      3

      So yeah, Hunger Games books = amazing!! Hunger Games film = disappointed. Saw it last night at my local cinema and sat through the whole film almost bored. There was so much missed from the books that was key to making this a great film/story. What also lacked was the violence. It should never have been given a 12A certificate. I know this was to sell to a wider audience and the original age bracket of fans, however it just didn't sit well with me at all. One main thing that was missing, and is the key to the following books, was the relationship between Katniss and Peeta. This was not developed enough through out the entire film. Key conversations and moments between them from the books were lost all together in the film. On a plus note, the direction was very good. The cinematography was excellent and the characterisation was exactly how i had imagined upon reading the books. To recap : at least a 15 certificate was needed. Add another 30 mins to the running time to explore the love story and sue missing details.

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    • TomBeasley

      Mar 23rd 2012, 23:09

      4

      We were so very, very close to getting a Hunger Games review that didn't mention Battle Royale. So near and yet so far TF! But anyway, the film. I am a huge fan of the books and so I was a little apprehensive of how it would transfer to the screen. Needless to say, I was very pleasantly surprised. Although it does of course leave out some details, it is as faithful a book-film adaptation as I have seen ever. Jennifer Lawrence is utterly wonderful in the lead role and hers is a star that will surely rise even higher in the future. The supporting cast are uniformly excellent and the setting is beautifully realised. I was also a little worried that the impact of the story's violence would be lost in producing a 12A certificate movie. However, the opposite was actually true. I think the toning down of the gore and focus on suggestion and clever cutting actually increased the power of the violence and some of the scenes are incredibly heart-wrenching. Aside from a certain slightly disappointing dress and a few crucial missing points, it was perfect.

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    • thedanieljson

      Apr 5th 2012, 11:20

      3

      I can't help but feel had I not had my expectations raised so highly, there'd be another star on this rating. But I found the film good, but not great - too slow moving at first, character development is of course important, but it's at least half the running time before the film gets going, whilst a few cliched moments dashed some of the films credibility. It's by no means a bad film - I'm damn excited for the next - the story is captivating, the characters complex, and the director creates a fantastic sense of urgency and fear that make for some incredibly exciting moments. It's just marred by the previous criticisms, that stop it, in my opinion, being quite as good as everyone suggests.

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    • FBJWalters

      Apr 6th 2012, 14:46

      What really annoys me is that people jump to condemn films like Avatar, which admittedly is a bad example, for not being creative and recycling plots, but in films and books like the Hunger Games, it's practically ignored. I was never a fan of the books, always saw them as a badly written cross between Twilight and the Running Man, but I'll give the film a watch. Rant aside, loved the review.

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    • specsbecs

      Apr 7th 2012, 10:01

      I always get annoyed when I see people have said Hunger Games has a 'slow build up' and only gets going when the games begin - of course it does, it has to lay out the background which Collins has the advantage of doing throughout the novels, but this is impossible in filmmaking without it being 4 hours long and ruin the pace. I review movies myself - shameless plug - and I'm normally incredibly kind but if you want to see it www.friendlyfilmfan.blogspot.com. Another thing about this review - and the above comments - there is no doubt there are comparisons with Battle Royale and others, but the film (and books) are deeply rooted in Roman history, which is possibly why some may see it as a 'new form' when really its harking back 2000 years ago to voyeurism and violence.

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    • filmfreak2

      Apr 15th 2012, 14:29

      great film, for me the best one in this year if you miss the theater you can watch it online in HD at www.safewatch.tk/ enjoy,,,

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