Review :: Big Screen – The Hunger Games

March 22nd 2012



I have to admit I was a bit confused when everyone started getting hysterical for the latest post-apocalyptic science fiction movie, ‘The Hunger Games’. Turns out, like Twilight, this blockbuster adaptation is A Big Deal amongst its crazed fan base. Turns out, this one is actually a lot better than Twilight. For starters, there are no paedophilic werewolves falling in love with newborns.

‘The Hunger Games’ is set in the distant future, where some cataclysmic event, which remains unexplained, has transformed the continental United States into Panem, a nation of 12 impoverished districts brutally ruled by a garish and decadent capital, draining them of their resources. As punishment for an uprising that occurred over 70 years ago, each district is forced to offer up a teenage boy and girl to fight to the death in a televised blood sport. Our hero is Katniss Everdeen, played beautifully by Jennifer Lawrence, who volunteers to take the place of her delicate sister when she is picked at random. She is joined by Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta, who so happens to have had a crush on Katniss since forever. The other point in this inevitable love triangle is poor Gale, played by sleepy eyed Liam Hemsworth. Gale drew the short straw and does bugger all in this movie except wear grey shirts and mope in front of the television. Poor Gale. I’m team Gale. Fuck Peeta.

If we’re drawing comparison to Twilight, our heroines couldn’t be more different. Katniss is not at all like that idiot Bella Swan; Katniss is strong and brave and has way bigger problems. In fact, she’s not all that removed from Ree in Winters Bone, Jennifer Lawrence’s breakthrough Oscar nominated role, except that Ree ended up trawling through a swamp to find her father’s corpse, while Katniss is whisked off in a flying train to hang out with Lenny Kravitz (oh yeah, Lenny Kravitz is in this movie) and Stanley Tucci’s giant blue pompadour.

My point is Katniss is a fantastic lead character, layered, complex and independent from these pretty boy’s. The kind of character you could build a series around. I don’t know where ‘The Hunger Games’ is going next, but I can’t see Katniss’s husband tearing her demon baby out of her belly with his teeth. She wouldn’t stand for that bullshit.

Underneath all of this is some pretty scathing satire. The Capitol is full of outrageous decadence; its citizens mesmerised by stupid gimmicks and obsessed with ridiculous fashions, best illustrated by Elizabeth Bank’s Effie, whose face sags under the weight of all that powder and polish. This totally OTT world is captured in stark contrast to the districts crippled by poverty and starvation. They are the 99%, who are nevertheless captivated by this symbol of their own oppression, The Hunger Games. Without going too deep (I’ll leave that to the academically dubious article that will inevitably surface on this area), suffice to say there are some big, bold and refreshingly cynical ideas at the heart of this blockbuster.

You know what else is bold? 14 year olds beating each other to death with bricks. Did I mention that this is one violent movie? In fact, I’d be willing to suggest that if this was, for example, a certain cult subtitled Japanese film the classification board would comfortably stick it with an MA. But this is a big Hollywood blockbuster, and the classification board is run by a bunch of clueless goons, so it gets an M, which by the by, I think is great. Keep your eyes peeled for the inevitable Today Tonight story of the appalled mother denouncing all the knife fights, wasp mutilations and little girls being impaled by spears. Won’t somebody think of the children!

Noted blockbuster director Gary Ross (Pleasantville, and, uh, Seabiscuit?) gets a lot right. He peppers his support cast with great actors like Tucci and Donald Sutherland. He gets a towering performance out of Lawrence, and he manages to create a palpable sense of suspense, which is all too rare. When the Games begin, I was genuinely curious as to how they would play out, knowing that the stakes were unusually high for a movie like this. People who I had come to like were inevitably going to die a horrible death.

That said, the movie is too long, the effects are hokey, and my personal pet peeve; Ross refuses to hold his camera still. All of the action is shot in this incomprehensible shaky cam style, cut so quickly so that you can never tell where the fighters are and who is winning. When he does insert a rare wide shot, it felt like someone had taken their hands off my eyes. I also wanted to see more of this imagined world. One of the movies finest moments arrives when it briefly cuts to another district, invested in the games, and outraged about a particular turn of events. I wanted to see more, and I hope the series becomes less about the games and more about Panem. I hope that, because while I had some niggling problems with the film, I still thought it was quite good, and I’ll be there in line for the inevitable sequel.

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