Review: The Hunger Games (12A) / Director: Gary Ross / Screenplay: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray / Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Elizabeth Banks, Toby Jones / Release Date: March 23rd
When you are dealing with a much loved novel written in the first person you are inevitably going to suffer when it comes to some of the finer details. The Hunger Games trilogy is all written in the first person from the perspective of heroine Katniss Everdeen and as a result you see the world through her eyes and get some specific details with regards to feelings and events. The film version of the first book; The Hunger Games, loses some detail that make the ruling totalitarian regime an evil and sinister presence and also makes the central romance feel a little unbelievable. On the whole though it’s a successful first film in a franchise that deserves your attention and hardcore fans will be very happy.
In case you have been living under a rock, The Hunger Games takes place in a future United States which has been split into twelve districts under the command of the decadent ‘capitol’ Panem. The districts are made up of farming and mining communities that all toil to keep the capitol running. As a consequence of a civil war, once a year each district is made to give up two of its children between 12 and 18 to compete in a fight to the death which is televised for the nation. This is a means of reminding everyone who is in charge and keeping the populace under control. The film follows the 74th ‘Hunger Games’ as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers in place of her younger sister and is thrust into the spotlight along with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) who may or may not have feelings for Katniss.
The film version follows the first book faithfully but some of the more disturbing elements are excised. We get to see more of the goings on behind the scenes which involve President Snow (Donald Sutherland), ‘Gamemaker’ Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) and former contestant and survivor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). By losing some of the details which we get from the first person perspective in the books, the story comes across more as reality TV gone mad type scenario and less about the cruelty of a dictatorship. By including more of the characters that are not featured prominently in the first book they cleverly manage to lay the groundwork and character detail for what is to come.
For a film that involves kids slaughtering each other, the violence is understandably toned down. You are spared some of the more brutal moments in the book and by not going into full on gore, Gary Ross has somehow managed to make the violence more disturbing. The opening of the games where the kids rush to get supplies and weapons whilst trying to avoid death is brilliantly done and is fast paced, filmed mostly on handheld cameras. The deaths are quick and sudden without showing blood and somehow it has greater impact.
Jennifer Lawrence is brilliant as usual and embodies the heroine that will get the nation's sympathy effortlessly. Woody Harrelson is also perfect as the sad, drunken Haymitch, a character that has great depths which will be revealed in subsequent films. Josh Hutcherson and the lesser known performers who make up the contestants all rise to the challenge and come across as naturally scared or troubled young people in an awful situation.
Whilst it’s not quite the slam-dunk we hoped for, The Hunger Games is a great film which is brutal, heartbreaking and thrilling and sets the scene perfectly for what is to come.
Expected Rating: 10 out of 10