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The Hunger Games (DVD)
Member Name: ROGERTHEDODGER
The Hunger Games (DVD)
Date: 15/09/12, updated on 20/09/12 (67 review reads)
Advantages: Compelling, thought-provoking, excellent cast and performances.
Disadvantages: May upset some people but there is no gratuitous,visual,violenc e.
I have been a little non-plussed by some recent filmic intepretations of children's literature. In my opinion, the big-screen versions of work by J.K Rowling, Lemony Snicket, and Philip Pullman have been over-hyped and underwhelming. So, it was with not a little scepticism that I prepared to watch The Hunger Games, the silver screen's version of Suzanne Collins much vaunted trilogy.
I am happy to report that the film is terrific.I will admit now that I have not read the books but,as befits a good first instalment, this film showcases good direction, plot and performances. The concept and themes are thought-provoking and,perhaps most important of all, the ending leaves us sufficiently inquisitive and curious as to what will happen in the second film. By turns harrowing, maddening, tender and life-affirming the Hunger Games did more than enough to fully extinguish my initial scepticism.
The plot of the Hunger Games is straightfoward enough yet is wonderfully paced and realised
as we are sucked into a whirlpool of twists and counter-twists. The concept of the film is difficult to countenance, however, without a feeling of revulsion. The nation of Panem (formerly North America) upholds an annual tradition whereby each of its twelve districts is compelled to select a boy and a girl between 12-18 to 'participate' in the Hunger Games. These are staged as a penance for the Districts' uprising, a show of sacrifice,and ostensibly being a 'price to pay for peace'.The film opens with a written summary of this dubious 'pageant', the terms of which are bound by the Treaty of the Treason.
The wrong-headed and callous notion is perpetuated here by President Snow who proclaims,Big Brother-like, that the Games will promote healing and unification. Whether this is propaganda or genuine wrong-headedness is immaterial as it does not change the fact that 23 young people and children are to face certain death.
Terminology and soundbites are imbued with sinisterly 'positive',paradoxical spin: The Games selection process is known as a 'reaping' and the doomed participants referred to as 'tributes'.
We are focused on District 12, a poor,outlying,coal-mining district. More specifically we zoom in on Katniss Everdeen, a feisty,pragmatic 16 year old. We gather that she is an ace archer and huntress par excellence.She dotes on her younger sister, Primrose, and this is evidenced from the outset. As the day of the reaping draws near the tension mounts, as this is clearly a lottery no one wants to win. Imagine the horror then, when the girl selected to represent District 12 is indeed little Primrose Everdeen.
The gob-smacked, distraught Katniss eventually finds her voice to scream that she will take her place. A volunteer is unprecedented in the Hunger Games, but Katniss's offer gives us a foreshadowing of her selfless bravery and hero(in)ism.
Meanwhile the chosen boy is Peeta, someone Katniss remembers via a series of ongoing flashbacks for an act of kindness her bestowed upon her while feeding his pigs. The combatants are introduced to the grotesque Effie Trinket, leader of District 12. She,in turn, leads them to their mentor, the whisky-swilling Haymitch - a previous 'winner' of the Games.
All 24 tributes across the 12 Districts are required to perform a series of tests before would-be sponsors, who could potentially assist them in their quest for victory. One such test is in the form of a chat show to showcase each participant's personality. Hosted by another OTT creation in the form of the cheesy Caesar Flickerman, this is beamed to a captive, brainwashed nation. Later tests are more physical and skill-orientated. Katniss impresses,infuriates and alienates with her archer's prowess and non-conformist, headstrong defiance. Peeta's biggest asset is his strength, but both are made clear that mere brute force and peerless hand-eye coordination will not be enough. The Games will also be as much about strategy and guile,even before they begin. We are reminded of their task ahead in the form of some formidable oppostion from the richer districts. These privileged kids have been drilled and trained from a very early age and almost invariably emerge victorious in the Games. There are precision knife and spear throwers,not to mention some mightily impressive hand-to-hand combatants.
The games begin in a clearing,surrounded by vast forests.Inevitably,there are some instant casualties. There will later be death by natural causes such as starvation, dehydration, and exposure. Strategies unfold as both alliances and divisions form. Sickeningly the Games are broadcast back to the chattering classes by means of omnipresent cameras concealed throughout the forest and general 'arena'. Each time a tribute is killed a single cannon shot is sounded. If a tribute is deemed to be evading combat then the 'Game Makers' can force them back towards the other participants by creating strategically raging fires.
The richer kids look to have the upper hand,particularly the arrogant and cocky Cato.
Katniss and Peeta are separated as the latter is drawn into an alliance. Has he turned on
her? But then again there can only be one survivor, so it really is everyone for him/herself. Or so you would think. Who, and what, will prevail?The plot is so compelling as we encounter more twists than you would find in a bag of fusili pasta. Hungry?.....you'll have to wait and see!
Greed, injustice, oppression, love, and loyalty all populate the thematic cornucopia of the Hunger Games. The Dictatorship of President Snow highlights the disparity between rich and poor.Even the Districts have a hierarchy with the smaller numbered ones representing the rich, more centralised enclaves while the ascending numbers denote more outlying,poorer Districts.
Greed and gluttony permeates the film throughout but is grotesquely best evidenced by Effie Trinket. The lavish trappings of her lifestyle are experienced by Katniss and Peeta in the build-up to the Games as they are dined and accommodated in opulent and hi-tech grandeur.This is in strark contrast to the opening dull,greyish scenes that depict down-at-heel District 12.
The transparent triviality and sickly,smiling insincerity of characters suchs as Effie Trinkel and Caesar Flickerman only serve to reinforce the fact that these young peopleare mere disposable pawns or numbers (much like their Districts) in a bigger game of entertainment for the privileged few.
For me, The Hunger Games is a big nod to 1984 in the insubordination and de-humanisationof subjects. As mentioned earlier, President Snow's address to the nation via large screensis like Big Brother incarnate. Similarly, and worryingly, The Hunger Games seems to be putout there as a possible nightmare vision of the future. Thankfully, Orwell got it mostly wrong - let's hope that Collins does likewise.
But perhaps the most interesting semi-analogy is that of the reality TV show, the Orwell-inspired Big Brother amongst them. I suppose of all the programmes that come under this umbrella then the one that most closely approximates itself is I'm A Celebrity Get Me Outof Here. This is not least because of it's jungle setting, with the participants required to demonstrate'survival technigues. Of course no one dies in these programmes and I do not wish to trivialize the message behind The Hunger Games. After all the most that a BB contestant loses is their dignity, not their life. However, to a much lesser degree there is a correlation with peoples insatiable appetite for voyeurism and a twisted satisfaction derived from spying on others' misfortunes.
If all this seems a little depressing, then there is a flip side in the form of the love
and loyalty that can flourish, particularly when people are placed under life-threatening
pressure. Katniss is like a beacon of hope, as her unshakeable good nature is tested to the absolute limit. Although she learns to adapt for the sake of her own good, her contempt for authority is clear and she is utterly selfless and courageous to the end. It is not Katniss alone, however, who has such admirable traits as we see acts of kindness and fortitude of spirit in others, even from some surprising sources.
Characters and Performances
Katniss Everdeen, you may have guessed by now, is the film's main character. I have mentioned some of her more noble attributes and these are wonderfully captured by Jennifer Lawrence. From the start we soon discover that she has had to be a virtual mother to Primrose, as her own mother is clearly not up to the task. We learn,during a later hallucination, that her father passed away in a coal mining accident. The absence of a paternal,and effectively a maternal,presence in the household sees Katniss step up and take admirable ownership in looking after Primrose. It also helps to forge an indelibly strong, self-sufficient character. Into the bargain she isn't too shabby with a bow and arrow when hunting and,asPeeta attests to Haymitch, she can shoot squirrels "right between the eyes".
Lawrence handles this weighty role quite effortlessly. She is also quite visually stunning at times, with her tumbling dark locks and mesmerising blue eyes she reminds me a little of a young Liv Tyler.
Another good performance from the film's other main protagonist. Peeta largely reciprocates the loyalty, bravery and kindness shown by Katniss. Although he is not as vocal and outwarldly feisty as Katniss, he nevertheless has admirable standards. This is particularly evidenced when he confides in Katniss that whatever happens, live or die, he does not want to be owned by 'them'. His commendable insistence on maintaining his personality is of paramount importance to him.
Peeta's feelings for Katniss extend beyond mere friendship and as this becomes apparent, it serves as a beguiling sub-plot thoughout the film. This love is initially unrequited by the outraged Katniss, but will she succumb? One of Peeta's main physical attributes is hisstrength and can,as his co-combatant proclaims "... throw a 100lb sack over flour right over his head". Another trick he has mastered is the art of camoflouage,which he uses to good effect in the arena - even if his creations make him look like something out of an 80s music video.
Josh Hutcherson is well cast as Peeta, he looks suitably physically imposing and
turns in a solid,if unspectacular, performance.This is not a slight, but a compliment, as he does not shift a disproportionate amount of emphasis away from Katniss's character.
Gale does not appear in the film for too long but is a significant character as he is
Katniss's boyfriend. As he is not selected for the Games we only see him prior to his lover's voluntary conscription with some brief interludes that see him watching her progress on TV, and at the end. Some of these intermittent appearances are important as they remind us of a potentially hazardous love triangle forming. This is highlighted when he is witnessto a particularly tender moment between Katniss and Peeta,captured on camera.You have to feel for the lad as the probability is, from his point of view, that Katniss and Peeta will die anyway, and this may be his last abiding image of her. This may explain why his reaction is quite poker-faced, as jealousy would seem futile on the face of it.Liam Hemsworth plays a good straight bat as Gale.
Haymitch is assigned to be mentor for Katniss and Peeta. As a previous winner of the Games he would appear be an inspired appointment. That is until you factor in his rampant alcoholism. Is his profuse drinking a psychologically scar from what we witnessed during his time in the arena? It is immediately apparent that Haymitch has taken the position to avail himself of the free booze. He is pessimistic about his charges chances and tells them as much to their faces. It is only when Katniss commands his respect by standing up to his negativity that he takes an ever more sober and serious hand in their quest. This new-found sobriety enables him to channel some extremely valuable wisdom and encouragement through to Katniss and Peeta.
The character brings some much needed humour to the film, not least in his verbal jousts with Effie Trinket. Woody Harrelson is responsible for breathing whisky-reeking breath into Haymitch, and is one of the film's standout performers.
Effie Trinket is the extremely eccentric leader of District 12 and looks like a corpse bride pulled from the wreckage of a Vivienne Westwood studio. Tittering and tottering in high-heeled, knock-kneed incongruity she is a grotesque affirmation of the polarity in class that exists in Panem. Her superficial outlook and attitude also highlights this divide. An instance of this is when Haymitch and Katniss come to verbal blows over dinner and the latter stabs a knife between his fingers. Despite the fact that the topic of the argument is life or death, all Effie can muster is concern for her table. As the knife plunges down she loudly admonishes with a shriek "That's mahogany!" Elizabeth Banks turns in a memorable performance, beneath all the make-up.
Along with Effie Trinket, Caesar FLickerman is the most visually arresting character in the film, but not necessarily in a complimentary sense. As the uber-cheesy chat-show host and Games commentator he is a like a purple-rinsed Elton John as Mozart.His role is to chat to the young contestants so that the vile viewers and sponsors may get an inkling into their likelihood of winning the games. Much like a pre-parade ring for racehorses, this helps the public decide who their money will be on.Flickerman's fixed grin and dazzling insincerity help to spark the paradox that mixes impending death with frivolous candyfloss.Stanley Tucci does not disappoint as the outrageous Flickerman.
Although we do not see the President too often, his presence is pervasive thoughout. Played with sinister aplomb by Hollywood heavyweight Donald Sutherland, his ruthless intransigence is all too evident. Just as we see a ray of hope, then Snow falls heavily upon it! It is clear that he favours the richer districts, and news of outsiders outperforming their odds rankles with him. He is one of those rare actors from whom a mere glance can chillingly convey impending trouble and terror.
Rue is a very shy little black girl who befriends Katniss by helping her during the Games.Although only young and small, she is bright and resourceful. Her main strategy seems to be built around hiding, which is aided by her penchant and ability to climb very high trees. It is only when I noticed that she has the cutest smile and expressive face that I almost forgot that she was engaged in such a deadly game. The fact that we are invited to get to know her a little may be directorially deliberate, in heightening our outrage as to how anyone could condemn such a beautiful little child to, almost, certain death. Rue is played by Amandla Sternberg, and I think she could be a little star in the making.
I feel a mention is deserved for Cinna, enterprisingly played by a glittery green-eyeshadowed Lenny Kravitz. He is responsible for designing the costumes for Katniss and Peeta in order to impress the sponsors. But much more than just a designer, he becomes an encouraging and friendly confidant-especially to Katniss. I don't know why I should be surprised, but Kravitz succeeds with a tender, bravura performance.
I can't reveal the ending but needless to say it is something of a double-edged sword,comprising satisfaction and regret. It's not totally happy,nor is it totally sad.Of course, we need to bear in mind that this is only the first instalment of a trilogy, and a completely happy,clappy resolution would be pointless as conflict and dilemma are what drive plotlines forward.We need to be enticed into yearning for the second part and my curiosity was suitably pricked into wanting me to do so. There was a sufficient sense of foreboding that sees me awaiting the next one with eager anticipation.
I wholeheartedly recommend the Hunger Games. Despite my pre-viewing scepticism it completely won me over and, for once, a modern 'children's' book has alchemised into cinematic gold. My wife has read the trilogy and assures me that it is very faithful to the book, except that it does not quite develop as many characters. However, she too loves the film which can be anachievement itself when you already have a pre-set notion of the story in your mind's eye.
Even though it is has been classified with a 12 certificate the concept of children being killed for entertainment is hardly an easy one to stomach. We are largely guarded from overtly graphic visualisation of the killings, rather we are shown the plunge of a knife and some prone bodies. However, the film can be upsetting and I would extend this caution to adults as well. Unlike the splatuitous horror of something like Saw or Hostel, the Hunger Games is,of course,visually tame but far more terrifying in the implicit terror that we encounter. That said, I feel that the film is important and resonates as a reminder of mankind's potential for infinite,untold cruelty.
Based on the Novel by
Katniss Everdeen - Jennifer Lawrence
Peeta Mellerk - Josh Hutcherson
Effie Trinket - Elizabeth Banks
Haymitch Abenathy - Woody Harrelson
President Snow - Donald Sutherland
Gale Hawthorne - Liam Hemsworth
Cinna - Lenny Kravitz
Caesar FLickerman - Stanley Tucci
Rue - Amanda Sternberg
Cato - Alexander Ludwig
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
137 minutes approx
English for the hearing impaired
12: Contains intense threat, moderate violence and occasional gory moments
None (unless you count trailers for other films).
I believe that there is another double DVD version for fans of peripherals.
*This review was first posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
Summary: Superbly promising first part of a much hyped trilogy