The Hunger Games

Posted: April 11, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Gary Ross, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland.

There’s a Pulp Fiction derived joke doing the rounds; what do they call the Hunger Games in Paris? A Battle Royale with Cheese…It’s a trifle unfair, but there is some substance behind it.

In a future dystopian America an uprising by the outlying districts resulted in a brutal crackdown by the state, and as punishment each of the 12 districts must send one male and one female between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in the annual Hunger Games, a televised gladiatorial contest which only one will survive. District 12’s Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take the place of her younger sister and soon she and Peeter, the male tribute, are whisked away to the capital where former District 12 champion (the always brilliant Woody Harrelson) tries to teach them both tricks that will keep them alive.

 This was actually a tough film to review because there is a lot to like about it, unfortunately there are a lot of things that bring it down.

The story itself isn’t very original, and yes Battle Royale ploughed similar ground, but the notion of people fighting to the death for others’ entertainment goes back much further. What The Hunger Games does differently is put a little spin on an age old story, with the hero actually a heroine, and with Peeter (the very likeable Hucherson) filling the damsel in distress role.

Jennifer Lawrence is the best thing about the film, she’s superb in making us feel for Katniss (her trembling  fear just before the games start is exceptional) and in making it believable that she can survive as well as she does. She’s ably backed up by a good cast.

Given the strong performances and solid direction it’s just a shame that much of the rest of the film doesn’t rise to the occasion. As I’ve said, the story isn’t very original, but that’s fine as long as you do something different with it, but unfortunately the film doesn’t (beyond the aforementioned reversal of gender roles) do anything remotely surprising. You can quite easily guess what’s going to happen to the other contestants. Early on they split into distinct groups, the “goodies” and the “baddies” and precious few are anything beyond two dimensional, and so it’s hard to feel much sympathy when they die (assuming you can even tell some of them apart).

The grisliest deaths are reserved for the “baddies” and too many deaths occur off camera, and herein lies the films biggest problem, it’s too bloodless, too clean. The moment after the games start there’s a mass fight and many of the contestants are butchered almost immediately, it should be a harrowing scene, but thanks to the desire for a 12A certificate it comes off more like the A-Team, everyone’s using knives and swords yet none have so much as a drop of blood on them.

I appreciate it’s based on a Young Adult novel, and that it’s aimed at a particular age group, and I’m not suggesting that I wanted a bloodbath (and you could argue that Battle Royale, for example, is too grisly), but I think it needed to show more of the horror of the games, because unfortunately it’s just too sanitised.

Despite this, despite the weak resolution, the predictability of the story and the numerous  happy contrivances; along with world building that seems to have been done on the back of a fag packet, it’s an enjoyable film, and despite its long running time I was never bored, never anything but engrossed in the story. It’s just a shame that it wasn’t a touch edgier, a bit more unpredictable, because for a while there I was going to rate this higher.  7/10

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