Director: Gary Ross
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland
The great worry with a film like The Hunger Games is that it would buckle under the pressure. There was the chance that studio executives eager to replicate the success of Twilight, forced a beefing up of the trilogy’s love triangle at the expense of its true story and message. There was the possibility that the film would either slavishly follow the book at the expense of succeeding as a film or make such wild changes in an attempt to broaden the fan base that they would alienate their built-in core.
Thankfully, none of the above is the case and The Hunger Games is the most satisfying book to film adaptation I have seen, for a book I read beforehand. Stormbreaker, Eragon, A Series of Unfortunate Events and The Vampire’s Assistant were all books I loved and films I hated or was greatly disappointed by. With this adaptation however, Gary Ross (The film’s director and co-writer) manages to stay faithful to the text whilst also making changes that augment it as a story and a film.
The premise of The Hunger Games for those of you who don’t know, is the following. In a post-apocalyptic future, America, now named Panem, has been split into twelve districts, run by the totalitarian regime of The Capitol, under the leadership of President Snow. Every year, each district must offer one young man and woman to take part in the televised, Hunger Games. In The Hunger Games, 24 enter and 1 leaves, the survivor of a fight to the death. Originally established in order to punish the districts for a past uprising, it has grown into a yearly, commercialized, tradition.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is a young woman from district twelve, who volunteers as tribute after her younger sister Prim is initially chosen. Joined by Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) Katniss faces a battle of survival that will change her life and all those in the land of Panem, forever. What is instantly recognizable from that plot synopsis is the social commentary and political elements of this tale. A film satirizing the extremes of reality television is nothing new, however it is the way in which The Hunger Games decides to do so, which makes it stand out. Having children kill other children is normally not the sort of material, which appeals to this wide an audience and is set to make such an enormous amount of money.
However Gary Ross is able to pull off the impossible and something I did not think he would be able to do. The games maintain their brutal, sadistic nature (We see blood get spilled) however manage to do so in a way that keeps the film at the age rating it supposedly requires to be a commercial hit. This was the biggest worry for me and I am sure many other Hunger Games fans. However for people who have not read the book, this element of the film will not be seen so much as a victory but more of an accomplishment. It is this rougher-edged plot and material within The Hunger Games, which makes it a far more adult text and film, to the likes it is being compared to.
Gary Ross also keeps the tone and pace perfect throughout. The early, district twelve, scenes are reminiscent of Winter’s Bone (The film for which Jennifer Lawrence received an Oscar nomination) whilst the scenes in the opulent Capitol, are suitably grandiose, with the film’s excessive costumes being both an achievement of design (Oscar consideration?) as well as a great piece of visual satire. The use of sound in this film is also something that stands out, quashing those who claim that this film lacks invention behind the camera. In scenes where music could have easily been cranked up for ultimate manipulation, Ross instead keeps it quiet and lets the performances perpetrate the earned emotion.
Speaking of the performances, Jennifer Lawrence is the Katniss that fans of the book dreamed of. She is perfect in the leading role and has now established herself as a dependable, leading lady. She doesn’t overplay a single scene and every emotion expressed or line spoken, feels real and genuine. She carries this film and there is no doubting that if her performance had not worked, then neither would the film. Jennifer Lawrence is not the only note-worthy performance in this film however as she is surrounded by a superb supporting cast.
Stanley Tucci steals every scene he is in and is perfect as Ceaser Flickermann, a favourite of mine sine The Lovely Bones and one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors. Woody Harrelson provides comic relief as Haymitch however does not overdo it and is believable in the mentoring scenes. Elizabeth Banks is unrecognizable as Effie Trinket and I would not be surprised if her character alone, nabbed The Hunger Games Oscar nominations for Make-Up and Costume Design. Speaking of the film on a technical and visual level, the art direction was also of a very high standard, with the CG landscapes blending well with the tactile, man-made constructions.
At two hours and twenty-two minutes, The Hunger Games is a long film and some would argue longer than it needs to be. However viewing it from a film fans perspective rather than from a Hunger Games fan perspective (Although I am both) the film never dragged and never lost my attention. Many times with long movies I feel that if I had been given the editing job, I could have cut it down to size. However with The Hunger Games, there was not one subplot or scene, which stood out to me as unnecessary. It is rare to find a well-paced two and a half hour film, which doesn’t outstay its welcome and in a sense, earns the running time. Any film over two hours is still too long in my book, however with The Hunger Games, you do not feel the length.
Ross also takes time to develop the characters. A less patient and more insecure filmmaker may have been keen to dive into the games as quick as possible, however Ross builds up the characters and the world to a point where those who haven’t read the book will feel knowledgeable and as comforted as you can be, in a film with this subject matter.
While this may sound a small and pedantic thing to complain about, it did take me out of the movie at crucial scenes. All the moments in the film which involve fire (And fans of The Hunger Games will know that there are two big ones) were let down by the very poor and obviously CGI fire effects. It is something I can forgive due to its relative insignificance and the fact that the film got so much else right, however it is something that gives fodder for potential unintentional laughter from more cynical audience members, keen to mock the film due to its soon to be monster status. Also fans of another underrated actor Toby Jones, do not get too excited about his involvement in this film, he, unfortunately, has all of one line.
Hunger Games is helped by the fact that with its subject matter, it is very much a timely film. A scene in the latter half of the film evokes the imagery of the Arab Spring. A scene that was added by Ross and is one of the film’s strongest. In China there is a reality TV show centered on death row and the idea of a sickening gap between the rich and poor, is one that will strike a chord with many in these days of the 99% The film builds up incredibly well and by the time the end credits start to roll, you will be ready and waiting for the next installment, which based on the performances and approach taken with this film, should be something worth looking forward to. This is the first film this year to give me chills, however that is something helped by the fact that I am fan of the source material...and that it was a bit chilly in the cinema.
Ultimately with its dark, satirical, timely plot, superb cast, perfect pace and technical achievements, The Hunger Games is the first great movie of 2012.
By Movie Parliament Prime Minister,
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