The Hunger Games
|March 25, 2012||Posted by Sep Gohardani under entertainment, reviews|
Film Information: Released March 23, 2012; Certificate 12A
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence; Josh Hutcherson; Liam Hemsworth; Woody Harrelson; Elizabeth Banks; Lenny Kravitz; Wes Bentley; Isabelle Fuhrman; Willow Shields; Donald Sutherland; Paula Malcomson
Director: Gary Ross
Screenwriters: Gary Ross; Billy Ray; Suzanne Collins (author of source text)
Running Time: 142 Minutes
At an unspecified date in the future the ruins of North America have become the nation of Panem, a dystopian, dictatorial land that dealt with an uprising and is making the different districts of the country pay for this insolence by organising a “reaping,” or raffle, which selects one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each of the twelve districts of the country to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised competition where each of these “tributes” engages in battle to leave only one victor. Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is a 16-year-old girl in district 12 who takes care of her sister Prim (Shields) and her mother (Malcomson) singlehandedly after the death of her father. When her sister is chosen for the Games, a distraught Katniss volunteers to go herself, sacrificing her life with her mother and her best friend Gale (Hemsworth). Together with Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), she makes up the contingent from district 12. We follow her as the trials and tribulations of preparing for the games begin to take their toll, and the scale of the event coupled with the repercussions for failure prove very emotional for all involved. The Games’ popularity cannot be questioned however, and Katniss must survive and be the last person standing to ensure she returns home. Can she do it amidst growing relationships and a rising feeling of helplessness?
The hype surrounding this film verged on the ridiculous. Every news medium had a piece about its impending release, and talk of it rivalling both the Harry Potter and Twilight series in terms of revenue and fan base was rife everywhere. The book series, by Suzanne Collins, even has a recommendation slapped on the front by said sparkly-vampire-adventure writer Stephanie Meyer, and it has basically been set up to be the next big teen-fiction film adaptation – something that the film industry these days seems to need. Hearing about it last week, I thought it had a relatively good premise, though there aren’t so much echoes of Japanese film Battle Royale as there are loud bangs and shouts muffled by the relentless beating of Hollywood. However, hope was always there that Collins and director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit; Pleasantville) could bring something to the table that both captivates and emotionally connects with the audience. Do we get anything like this? Sadly, all I can reply with is a ‘blergh’ of indifference and a sigh of disappointment.
Ross certainly tries, and brings a solid reputation from his other (albeit small) forays into the directorial business. The shots, with the aid of seasoned and brilliant cinematographer Tom Stern whose camerawork on Clint Eastwood’s war masterpiece Letters from Iwo Jima proved invaluable, are done with impeccable accuracy and we certainly don’t miss out on spectacle. What we do miss out on is coherence and any sense of attachment. Melodramatic in the extreme in sections and standing at a huge 142 minutes, you get the feeling that a good 20-25 minutes of it aren’t needed and you can sense the padding out of a film that could have been much faster-paced if we removed the good parts from the sumo wrestling suits of dreariness they are wearing. I found it very difficult to get into the film, and that was in no small part down to Ross’ refusal to edit more.
Former Academy award nominee Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone; X-Men: First Class) is actually very good in the lead role, her acting prowess, and indeed the general acting prowess of the cast, being one of the positives to take from the film. Extremely assured and confident, it’s easy to see why she beat off competition from the likes of Hailee Steinfeld and Saoirse Ronan for the role. The pick of the rest of the actors is probably Woody Harrelson (The Messenger; No Country For Old Men) whose role, though minor in comparison to some, held the film together in my opinion and provided both comic and dramatic value.
The writing, courtesy of the trio of director Ross, Billy Ray and original writer Suzanne Collins, is incoherent, over-dramatic and never really engaging. Despite the glimpses of true inspiration all we get is an ending blatantly meant simply to please children, filled with that typical Hollywood charm and missing the opportunity to turn what is a good concept into a true classic. Collins never really explains the reason why all the posh people in this place dress like French aristocrats on LSD, either, nor why anyone in any way associated with the TV show looks like they once faceplanted into some makeup, but I suppose the sci-fi/futuristic thing has to be slammed into our faces as though we were some cross-eyed idiot much as every other aspect of this film is. “Ooh, look look look! Sad bit! Fighty bit! Sad bit again!” It shouts like a hyperactive small child, and it gets just as tiresome.
As melodrama goes, the ending is particularly rife with it and left me feeling more disappointed than at any other point, and that’s saying something. The romance element they wrote in is very Twilight-esque and to be honest I can see where it’s going to go without needing to see the other two films that somehow are going to be squeezed out of something that to me doesn’t seem to have a next level. I could see many ways to suggest a sequel, but rather than opening up any avenues for another film we instead get closure, which is particularly baffling. The good bits are largely those relating to the social context of Panem, and in my opinion these aren’t really focussed on enough. The one emotional scene that’s done well is in relation to a riot that starts as a result of the events in the show, and while I could again see various avenues that could be explored in relation to this sort of anarchic disobedience, the writers disappoint and choose to opt for the soppy, somewhat ridiculous ending that we get.
The Hunger Games is a mess of concepts, and the concepts that it decides to focus on are not the concepts that result in anything but a child-friendly take on a dystopian world. Not having read the books, I can’t say that there’s much sign of their glowing reputation here, and the fact that Collins was on the team means I probably won’t be going near them. Monumentally long, by the end I had become more interested in my friend’s reactions to the various “jumpy” moments that the film throws at you in a last, desperate attempt to force you to grab its falling hand than the plot, and for a film billed as the next big thing to fail to capture its audience is a crime. It will have elicited many warm, sentimental tears from the willing however, and will probably do well at the box office since the books are popular and it has just the right level of ridiculous melodrama and cheesy romance to attract the masses of casual cinema goers. Then again, so did Transformers, so I’m not sure that’s much of an achievement.