Even before its release, The Hunger Games is being lauded as the film of 2012, and is expected to give other Hollywood heavyweights a very long run for their money. Based on the first of Suzanne Collins’ phenomenally successful series of novels for young adults, the film is set in a cruel dystopian America where gruesome death is the biggest box-office draw.
The United States has collapsed into itself due to war, famine, drought and fire. Left standing after the carnage is Panem, a country split into twelve districts and ruled over by the sinister Capitol. Every year, a girl and boy between the ages of 12 and 18 are randomly chosen from each district; these 24 ‘Tributes’ are then forced to fight to the death on live national television. This disturbing practice, which started out as a punishment for a failed uprising, has been distorted into a twisted game show. The Tributes are honoured and treated as celebrities, and the last one standing will win fame and fortune for themselves and their district.
Sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers for the games, taking the place of her younger sister. Born in impoverished District 12, Katniss has had to hunt and scavenge to keep her family from starving. Along with male counterpart Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), she is thrust into the spotlight in the wealthy Capitol. The 24 Tributes are forced to train alongside each other before being thrown into the arena (which could be anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland) to battle for survival.
Jennifer Lawrence, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Winter’s Bone, is exceptional as Katniss. Speaking to the Guardian’s Gwilym Mumford, she described Katniss as ‘…a warrior. She’s this hero that doesn’t mean to be a hero. She’s a symbol of revolt, and freedom, and hope…a futuristic Joan of Arc.’ Lawrence has nailed her character, instilling Katniss with the sternness that comes after being forced to stare into the eyes of starvation. In spite of her experiences, Katniss is not a cold-blooded murderer; underneath her unyielding demeanour is an unwavering love for her sister, and a desire to protect the weak.
Woody Harrelson stands out from the supporting cast as Haymitch Abernathy, a past winner of the games who is tasked with advising and training Katniss and Peeta. At first he seems to be a useless drunk, but gradually he reveals his true worth and becomes a good friend to Katniss; Harrelson does well to make such a small part so memorable and funny.
Although the Hunger Games books are quite violent, Director Gary Ross has cleverly toned down the level of gore in the film so that it can be enjoyed by a younger audience (the film is being released as a 12A in the UK). While violence is still present, it is in no way gratuitous. The use of handheld camerawork, which is skilfully combined with subjective sound effects, often gives the impression that the viewer is experiencing certain scenes from the point of view of Katniss, seeing her fractured impressions of the violence.
It came as a refreshing surprise to many that The Hunger Games is not being released in 3D. Ross has also confirmed that as long as he is directing them, none of the sequels will be shot in 3D either. He revealed his reasons for this in an interview with MTV, saying that to shoot any Hunger Games in 3D would cheapen the subject matter: ‘…if we shoot this movie in 3D, we become the Capitol; we start making spectacle out of something that I don’t think is really appropriate…’
The Hunger Games has been billed by many as ‘the next Twilight’, but in reality there is no comparison between the two franchises. Twilight is set in the present day and is stuffed full of vampires, while The Hunger Games is set in the near future and there’s not even a whiff of the supernatural about it. Isabella Swan, the heroine of Twilight, is clumsy, weak and couldn’t skin a squirrel if her life depended on it, whereas Katniss Everdeen can not only catch, skin and chow down on anything she pleases, she can stick a bunch of murder-crazy teens full of arrows while she’s doing it. The Hunger Games is a decent film, whereas Twilight fails to be a decent anything.
There are a few faintly ridiculous moments in The Hunger Games (such as Peeta, who used to work in a bakery, disguising himself as rocks and trees with skills he supposedly learned decorating cakes). However, the film as a whole is an exciting and original take on the idea of the teenage Battle Royale; it will hold the attention of both adults and youngsters, and no doubt prompt many to get stuck into the already bestselling novels.
Best performance: Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen.
Best scene: Katniss blows up supplies which have been booby-trapped by the other Tributes.