In preparation for the release of the film, I recently read Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games’ and was pleasantly surprised to learn that the first in the series of incredibly popular books was actually well written. It’s easy to see how the Running Man meets Battle Royale meets Series 7: The Contenders-themed novel struck a nerve with readers. The popularity of reality TV is part of it, sure, but you only have to look at the Occupy protests in the west recently to see that disparity of wealth is social issue that’s high on the agenda.
The Hunger Games are an annual series of tourneys that pit children from each ‘district’ against one another in a fight to the death. It may take many days, but the fact remains: 24 go in, one comes out. Some 75 years earlier, the districts tried to revolt against the Capitol, and this is how the powers that be like to remind the populace of their place. The affluent, extravagantly dressed haves of the upper class Capitol dearly love the Games, and are blissfully unaware of the poverty of the have nots outside their city.
In steps Katniss Everdeen, one of the contestants/combatants of District 12. Katniss is a brilliant character, intelligent, strong, resourceful, decisive and above all, a great panacea in the wake of the last four Twilight films. It must have taken the casting agents about three seconds to come to the conclusion that Jennifer Lawrence was the woman for the job. Her stunning performance in Winter’s Bone – which also featured her fighting to survive in the backwoods – was Oscar-nominated, and rightly so. Whilst X-Men: First Class didn’t really give her much of a chance to shine, here she is positively excellent. Lawrence can convey via silent expression what many actors can’t do with the best of dialogue.
Josh Hutcherson is good as Peeta Mallark also, however it seems strange that they cast someone with completely the wrong body type, especially when Liam Hemsworth (who plays Gale Hawthorne) would have been the right size for the role. The forever-reliable Stanley Tucci is brilliant as the TV host, Caesar Flickerman, whilst Elizabeth Banks is given a chance to stretch her talents as Effie Trinket, a role which a lazier filmmaker may have saved for Helena Bonham Carter. Finally, Woody Harrelson is spot on as their tributes’ trainer, Haymitch Abernathy, a man clearly tortured by his role in effectively leading children to their deaths year after year.
It’s quite fantastic how much this film gets right. Those who love the book will have practically nothing to complain about. Sure, the Avox girl is missing, and a couple of events have been shifted, but on the whole this is pretty much a perfect adaptation and, dare I say it, a perfect film. The major change would have to be the fact that we see the master control room and more of the broadcast itself, which helps unfamiliar audiences understand how the show itself works, something which was taken care of in the book by Katniss’ interior monologue.
Whilst I wouldn’t say the film feels ‘censored’ in the same way that King Arthur was, the violence is clearly very carefully edited so as to get the film an M rating here in Australia. This actually works in the narrative’s favour. Whilst never gory, the snippets of violent acts that we do see are sudden and terribly final, and that’s perhaps the most realistic way the filmmakers could have approached it.
Director Gary Ross has helped to create a brilliant piece of Hollywood filmmaking – it’s a film that plays by the rules of any mainstream release, yet the social commentary still manages to pack a satirical – and highly critical – punch. There are a couple of minor niggles – for instance, one fight is a little hard to follow with all the close-ups and rapid editing – but even these don’t detract from the film overall. The Hunger Games is a wonderful film that manages to combine so many elements. Echoes of the Holocaust, a critique of Western society, teen angst, an awesome heroine and some edge of your seat action shouldn’t sit so perfectly side by side. But they do. Bravo.Rating: