Get used to The Hunger Games on the big screen, it’s being described as this decade’s movie franchise (following Star Wars, Harry Potter, Twilight). This safe-as-houses adaptation of teen-fiction has a feisty heroine, an edge of satire and an unsettling theme of bonkers reality TV gone mad with children killing children.
In a future America, post-Civil War II, the rebel states (districts) are oppressed by the ruling elite (represented by lazy, sly old Donald Sutherland’s President Snow), used as forced labour and in gladiatorial combat for reality TV show The Hunger Games. The twelve districts’ 12-18 year-olds are subject to selection by lottery, one girl and boy from each; twenty-four enter, only one can leave.
It’s a slightly ludicrous mash-up of Running Man, Rollerball, Gladiator, Aeon-Flux and The Truman Show (for the satire on modern American TV culture), not to mention direct lifts of Kinji Fukasaku’s Japanese satire Battle Royale (2000) and Daniel Minahan’s Series 7: The Contenders (2001). In this, you have no doubt where heroine Katniss Everdene (Jennifer Lawrence) will finish in this sports show of lethal violence.
The foppish, Owellian Ancien Regime of this new Panem nation inhabits a comedic future of powdered wigs and extreme 80’s fashion while pretending to be Rome married with Nazism, bread and circuses and running commentary worse than WWE.
The twenty-four tributes (contestants) are a fairly rum bunch about whom you know and care little; director Gary Ross tries and fails to manipulate our sympathies. Beneath the CGI excesses of his risible dystopia, this is an underdog’s tale (Sutherland dismisses underdogs with contempt), a last-man standing thriller of predictable plotting in which the shock value for its 12A UK rating is simply children killing children.
Katniss goes through her predictable physical and emotional journey, learns to manipulate the media and play the reality TV game, with an awful lot of running through woods and impressive tree-climbing. Lawrence plays her tough but vulnerable, breaking down through the movie, rather than toughening up, a decent twist. She is the moral centre but still gets caught up in the public playing of this most morally corrosive game.
Ross and original author of the 2008 young-adult bestseller Suzanne Collins co-wrote the screenplay with little bite or credibility. It’s less Twilight and more Twilight Zone, with only Woddy Harrelson providing any depth as the alcoholic mentor and former winner of past games, Haymitch. Just like X-Factor and all the other crummy talent shows, the contestants have their mentors and make short-term alliance to stay in the game – only this time it’s played with deliberate cruelty much like Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
Ross cuts around the violence to preserve the rating for the target audience, for pictures would be too graphic to deliver Collins’ novel uncut. The glorious hand-held wobble-cam is shaky to the point of annoyance while the plinky-plonky soundtrack undercuts the immediate peril of the reality show. Wearing its heart and other vital organs on its sleeve, The Hunger Games is a flashy, transparent, slightly smug teen-thriller that is adequate for its overlong stay, but no more. Better get used to it, there’s more on the way. RC
The Hunger Games
Directors: Gary Ross
Written By: Suzanne Collins, Gary Ross, Billy Ray
Production year: 2012
Certification: 12A / PG-13
Runing time: 2 hr. 22 min.
Genre: Drama, Mystery & Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hucherson, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Alexander Ludwig, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson