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Hunger Games Reviewed

Rachel Winterbottom is avoiding death with the latest movie

Published on March 27th 2012.


Hunger Games Reviewed

BASED on the first book in the trilogy by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is another phenomenon from the young adult section of the bookshop. But unlike Meyer's Twilight series, these books are about survival and retaining hope against the odds, rather than who fancies who.

It's an unflinching commentary on us, the audience. Where the film disappoints is when it shirks from reminding us of this.

Following an uprising, the USA has now become Panem, a nation divided into 12 districts and ruled over by the Capitol. As punishment for the rebellion, the government now holds an annual public reaping. Every year a boy and a girl aged 12 to 18 are selected from each district to take part in the Hunger Games pageant. The pageant is a fight to the death in an arena where each child is just as likely to die from thirst, hunger or, in some cases, fireballs, than by a fellow tribute's hand.

This horrific event has become part of the entertainment industry for the citizens of the Capitol, and part of everyday life for the downtrodden districts. The 24 contestants must battle it out in front of innumerable cameras for the nation's viewing pleasure in order to win riches for themselves and their district. But there can only be one survivor.

When 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, who shone in Winter's Bone) learns that her sister Primrose has been chosen as tribute for District 12, she volunteers to compete in her place, causing a media sensation. Katniss then uses her hunting skills to gain the support of rich audience members who will act as sponsors should she need any aid during the game. Her fellow District 12 tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are Alright) uses his apparent love for Katniss to appeal to the audience's fondness for star-crossed lovers. Katniss is happy to play along for the cameras if it gives her a better chance of surviving.

Writer/director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville) has stuck closely to the source material and successfully breathed life into Collins's words by creating a Panem where the extreme social divide is highlighted by the garish colours of the Capitol and the stark hues of its districts. Ross has refreshingly focused on the themes of survival, hope and brutality in the novel, rather than on a love triangle between Katniss, Peeta and Gale, her childhood friend. He clearly knows that abstinence is not an acceptable substitute for a plot.

Thanks to its 12A certificate this film is not as gory as the book but it still packs a visceral punch. Kids are offed in inventive and bloody ways. Murder is turned into prime-time spectacle for the braying public. Even if the tributes do survive the game, drunken District 12 survivor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson in one of the film's tamer wigs) serves as a dire warning that no one escapes unscarred. Fortunately, its satirical edge and the thrill of following the key characters' fight for endurance prevent the film from becoming too bleak.

Lawrence is perfectly cast as Katniss, using her wide scope to portray the leading character's strength and vulnerability as she battles to survive and retain her humanity. Whether during tender scenes with Katniss's sister and young tribute Rue or even when she is manipulating Peeta's feelings to please the audience, Lawrence brings poignancy to a demanding role. Hutcherson gives an earnest performance as Peeta, leaving the audience guessing as to whether his character's motives are entirely pure.

The Hunger Games achieves the necessary balance between Battle Royale-style combat and remaining focused on the central characters. However, Ross's adaptation is missing the Truman Show-esque audience reactions to the events in the pageant. Collins's trilogy is a sharp satire on voyeurism, reality TV and news coverage. The kids are about to kill each other but they're dolled up first in order to please viewers. It's an unflinching commentary on us, the audience. Where the film disappoints is when it shirks from reminding us of this.

Still, aside from an array of dodgy wigs and the disappointment of the one truly twisted part of the novel being left out of the film (it's worth reading just for that), The Hunger Games is a tense, graphic and moving start to the trilogy.

Ratings 7/10

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