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Are You Hungry?
The Hunger Games (DVD)
Member Name: rosebud2001
The Hunger Games (DVD)
Advantages: Strong young leads, visual contrasts, storyline
Disadvantages: Violent, some poor use of hand held camera
Suzanne Collins seems to have noticed this as her "Hunger Games" trilogy features a dystopian society in a nation called Panem. Panem comprises the futuristic, wealthy Capitol which is surrounded by various outer Districts populated by the oppressed, kept down by hunger. Following a rebellion in the Districts the Capitol has marked their victory with an annual "Hunger Games" which pitches 24 young people in a fight to the death.
My daughter expressed an interest in going to see the film which I have to say surprised me as she has never cared for science fiction much before. In spite of my misgivings, we went to the cinema to see the film and while she wasn't particularly impressed, I absolutely loved it - which I have to say surprised me.
Sixteen year old Katness Everdeen lives in District 12 of Panem with her younger sister Primrose and her widowed mother following the death of her father in a mining accident. When the lottery is held to choose the "tributes" - ie the boy and girl who will represent District 12 in the Hunger Games - Primrose's name is drawn. Katness, who is a seasoned hunter, volunteers to take her place.
Katness travels to Capitol with Peeta Mellark, a baker's son who once threw bread to her when she was starving. Despite knowing they will have to fight against one another in the Hunger Games, a bond forms between Katness and Peeta, with Peeta acknowledging Katness' hunting and survival skills whilst revealing an understanding of what a TV audience will want himself.
Only one of the 24 children can win the Hunger Games however - everyone else is destined to die in a fight which is manipulated not just by the TV producers, but by the very highest echelons of society.
I am not normally a fan of science fiction and I am even less of a fan of young adult fiction if I am honest - certainly anything with the word "Twilight" on it has me running for the door. "The Hunger Games" is in a different league to anything featuring a wimp called Bella thanks to the strong female lead of Katniss. Jennifer Lawrence owns the role, displaying strength - both inner and outer - in equal measure in a calm, stoical manner. On the rare occasions she displays more histrionic emotions she is utterly believable and her performance defines the film.
Lawrence is ably supported by Josh Hutcherson as Peeta. I have only seen Hutcherson in one film prior to "The Hunger Games", when he portrayed Jesse in "Bridge to Terabithia" and turned in a powerfully moving performance. Hutcherson isn't your typical good looking teen actor being neither beefcake and brawn nor foppish and handsome. Thank goodness for that frankly - instead we have a believable teenager who is just a damn fine actor. Hutcherson's face is equally as expressive as Lawrence's - if perhaps not quite as attractive - and he has a wonderfully sympathetic manner which keeps the audience on side even when perhaps they shouldn't be.
Katniss' close male friend in Panem is Gale Hawthorne, played by current Miley Cyrus beau Liam Hemsworth. There's no denying that Hemsworth is far better looking than Hutcherson but his acting is wooden in comparison. It perhaps doesn't help that his part is so much smaller in comparison to Hutcherson's but frankly I didn't really care about Gale the way I did about Peeta.
The rest of the supporting cast is generally better than Hemsworth although I would say to Lenny Kravitz not to give up the day job, despite looking rather magnificent in the part of stylist Cinna. His acting is unfortunately stilted and unconvincing. Elizabeth Banks is much better as Effie Trinket who chaperones Katniss and Peter to the games. Better still is Woody Harrelson as former Games winner Haymitch Abernathy who is their mentor. Harrelson exudes warmth and is utterly believable as a good guy, even if he is a drunken good guy sporting a hairdo modelled on Billy Ray Cyrus' in "Hannah Montana". I suppose it could have been worse - it could have been a hairdo modelled on Billy Ray Cyrus' in the video for "Achy Breaky Heart".
Donald Sutherland is chilling, but not quite chilling enough as Panem President Coriolanus Snow. I suspect the true malevolence bubbling underneath his cool exterior was kept in check to ensure the film got that all-important 12A rating; but I felt Sutherland was holding back a little too much in his performance and certainly his character didn't scare me as I felt it should have done.
Wes Bentley was, I felt, far more effective as Seneca Crane, head gamemaker of the Hunger Games. Bentley does hide behind some flamboyant facial hair but he is convincing as a master manipulator who is also being manipulated by his President. Finally I have to mention Stanley Tucci who channels a little of almost every prime time US TV host into his performance as Caesar Flickerman, the TV show's equivalent of Davina McCall.
It is worth mentioning that "The Hunger Games" is a long film, with a running time of 2 hours and 22 minutes. By and large the pacing is pretty good but I did find it took the first fifteen minutes or so to really suck me in, and certainly I didn't find it truly gripping until Katniss and Peeta arrived at Capitol which is when I felt the pacing increased a little.
Director Gary Ross co-wrote the screenplay with Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray and you can almost feel the hand of the book's author on it. She cares about how these characters she created are portrayed and it's to Ross' credit that he has let that shine through.
The direction of the film is limited a little by the target audience. Because this is a teen novel franchise it's a no-brainer that the producers would want a 12A certificate but this is a violent story with death and destruction part of the main premise. Ross gets round this by using jerky, hand held camera shots which blur and distort the images the audience see and as such hides the worst of the violence. My only gripe is how he uses the jerky camera shots earlier on in the film especially in some highly stylised scenes of District 12 children looking remarkably like children from the Holocaust as it badly dilutes the imagery.
In scenes shot in Capitol and en route to Capitol Ross clearly displays the difference between life there in comparison to life in the outer Districts. People in Capitol are well fed, beautifully clothed and live in a society punctuated by bright colours, and Ross uses strong lighting and beautiful costumes to reflect this. The Districts are lit far more darkly and Ross mutes the colour in these scenes dramatically. The end result is very effective at conveying an oppressed society to the audience.
CGI is used in the film too, with a gleaming silver high speed train looking utterly convincing as it winds its way from the impoverished District 12 to Capitol, along with some terrifying fireballs and even more terrifying wild dogs.
Of course there is a sense you get as you watch "The Hunger Games" that you are part of this sick TV extravaganza, peering in as an audience member and getting the hang of how the "games" are played. Some of the killings are truly shocking, with one in particular being upsetting enough to reduce me to tears. I then had to remind myself that much of what occurs in the games themselves is no different to some of the false behaviour and judicious editing I have experienced on shows such as Big Brother over the years when people will metaphorically kill someone in order to do better themselves.
Having now seen the film I can see why "The Hunger Games" has been such a huge box office hit. The story is good, the acting - especially from Lawrence and Hutcherson - is strong and convincing and the action is very well staged. There's no denying however that this is a violent film, for all Ross has tried to mute much of it to make the film suitable for a younger audience.
What I love most about the film is the fact it is carried by a young woman who is strong, smart and gifted. Katniss may well be physically strong and the best person with a bow and arrow this side of Robin Hood but she's also incredibly clever, using her brain to overpower people who are physically stronger than she is. Jennifer Lawrence conveys her as someone who genuinely wants to help people as well as helping herself and her selfless personality is heartwarming without being cloying. It also helps that Katniss isn't the sort of girl who wears her heart on her sleeve of course.
I hadn't expected to enjoy "The Hunger Games" at all and while there is undoubtedly the usual Hollywood gloss put on - especially during the games themselves when none of the youngsters taking part seem to have a hair out of place despite several days in the great outdoors without a shower - you can forgive it because the film is aimed fairly and squarely at the young. The story is good enough to enable you to suspend disbelief and the performances strong enough to keep you gripped throughout.
Final verdict is it's highly recommended, even if I am miles from the target audience.
Summary: A sci-fi tale which is refreshingly led by a strong female lead accompanied by a good supporting cas