The Hunger Games, based on the post-apocalyptic ‘young adult’ novel by Suzanne Collins, managed to hit a chord amongst teen audiences (it being an almost perfect date movie amongst many other things) and enticed more than one or two adults on its way to becoming one of the biggest films of 2012 (well , before the triple whammy of Prometheus, The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises). Part of the reason it appealed to a wide audience seemed to be that the film was cobbled together from the pieces of others, as if it were some sort of insane Hollywood maths problem: Twilight + Battle Royale x Mad Max + The Fifth Element = The Hunger Games. There’s no doubt that there are lots of elements here that have been seen before but this still manages to carve enough of an identity for itself to be intriguing, exciting and – on the odd occasion – compelling.
There’s no doubt that there are lots of elements here that have been seen before but this still manages to carve enough of an identity for itself to be intriguing, exciting and – on the odd occasion – compelling
In a not-too-distant future, the nation of Panem has emerged from the ashes of a mysterious war. Surrounding the shining and wealthy Capitol are twelve districts who – each year – must provide a boy and girl to take part in The Hunger Games, a fight to the death of which there can only be one survivor. The games are staged in order to remind the citizens of Panem of the District’s previous rebellion against the Capitol and serve as a warning to ensure that it never happens again. In District 12 – one of the poorest - Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) find themselves selected as the latest players of the game. Taken to the Capitol, the pair a given a taste of luxury and decadence as they’re tutored by former Hunger Games survivor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). Needing both physical prowess and the ability to appeal to a TV audience (as ‘sponsors’ can bestow contestants crucial gifts during the games itself), Peeta and Katniss move ever closer to the games with Katniss finding her archery skills an important asset. As the games begin it becomes apparent who to trust as people die and Peeta and Katniss’ survival instincts are put to the ultimate test. Will they work together or alone? And how can they both survive when there can be only one winner?
This is a film of two halves, the first being the selection and training of our protagonists and the second being the Hunger Games themselves. By its very nature, the first half is something of a slog with all the exposition and training sequences that – whilst they contain some nice moments – have you chomping at the bit, waiting for The Hunger Games to begin. But when the games section does kick off, there’s a genuine air of tension and dread thanks to some visceral fight sequences (and the film manages to be pretty bloody considering it’s ostensibly aimed at a teen audience) and some strong and believable performances from Lawrence – who is very good in her lead role, managing to be both feisty and feminine at the same time – and Hutcherson. Also, Donald Sutherland turns up being brilliant as the ominous and creepy President Snow. But even when these sequences impress, you can’t help but feel that the film is trying a little too hard. The aforementioned glut of influences on the film ranges from the costume design – with the ostentatious clothes of the wealthy recalling The Fifth Element – to the sets, with the gleaming Capitol resembling the monoliths of Blade Runner. While it avoids the derivative – mainly by mixing together so much it begins to feel unique – the game of influence spotting sometimes takes you out of the film. Similarly in attempting to be multi-layered – from the romance between Katniss and Peeta to the politics of the”haves” versus the “have nots” with swipes at the influence of reality TV on the way – the film loses its way and could sometimes benefit from a bit more focus.
While it avoids the derivative – mainly by mixing together so much it begins to feel unique – the game of influence spotting sometimes takes you out of the film
Despite its reputation as a ‘Twilight’ with a nod to politics and some nastier violence, The Hunger Games is actually an intriguing, if often flawed, take on both the teen movie and the ‘New Bad Future’ genre. While overlong and sometimes muddled, there’s enough intelligence and talent on show here to warrant a look and give the soon-to-be-made sequels a cautious welcome.
The packed Bluray comes with a massive amount of extras including an 8 part documentary about the making of the film and lots of people talking about how great it all is which – as if often the case with extras – is fascinating if you like that sort of thing.
The Hunger Games is available on DVD, Bluray and VOD now from Lionsgate
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