The Establishing Shot: The Hunger Games Review - The Hunger Games has a heart that beats louder than a 1000 giant robots transforming

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 Craig Grobler 0 Comments

The Hunger Gamesdidn't know what to expect from The Hunger Games. Even when I was the appropriate age Young Adult literature held no interest for me. And even less so with studios scrambling to get their formulaic equivalent on screen with the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises drawing to an end.

I had heard good things about Author Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games series, but that’s exactly what I would expect from a successful series of books even Twilight has an army of followers that swear it is the best thing eva - so I couldn’t really put much credence into that. But back in August last year at Empire’s Big Screen I received a copy of The Hunger Games in my swag bag and thought - Great! an opportunity to check it out for myself. Predictably I never had enough time to get past the first page however my wife did. Not only did she fly through The Hunger Games but the remaining two books of Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy - Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, as well. When I asked what’s it like; she explained to that The Hunger Games was good very good, biting satire of popular culture, with lots of action. It’s a bit like Fountainhead for kids. By this, she did not mean it promotes a dubious cult with selfish interests but rather it features a strong character with integrity that does not sway to the will of others.

With her stamp of approval I was quite keen to see more of it. Careful to avoid any marketing or media that would undoubtedly give away spoilers I waited for The Hunger Games to begin.

I settle in to my seat at the cinema surrounded by very lively fans and an anticipatory buzz that I have only ever experienced at screenings of Harry Potter films.

My thoughts continue further below but for those as unaware of The Hunger Games as I was here is the official synopsis:

The Hunger Games
In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss' young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who seems to have all the fighting skills of a lump of bread dough, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.

Video: The Hunger Games - In Cinemas March 23

Whoa! I quite enjoyed The Hunger Games. It’s not made with the template Summer Blockbuster cookie cutter and is definitely well above others I have seen so far. The Hunger Games made me realise that it may be a bit of a shame that I sometimes view the whole package of a film and balance the poor elements with stronger elements giving the film more weight as The Hunger Games is a really good film that deserves so much more.

The magic of The Hunger Games comes down to two overriding elements - it has great performances mainly from the marvellous Jennifer Lawrence who brings some serious acting chops to what otherwise may have been just another franchise film. I think there are few actors who could bring the same level of gravitas to the role of a young Katniss Everdeen. She really nails it and everything else rotates around her strong central performance. I should mention Josh Hutcherson performance as Peeta Mellark as he holds up well against Jennifer Lawrence.

The other the great thing about The Hunger Games is Gary Ross's direction - as great as a performance is, bad direction and editing can absolutely kill it. Ross allows Jennifer Lawrence to come to life and lift the film way above its framework, giving The Hunger Games a heart that beats louder than the sound of; a 1000 giant robots transforming, the laser blasters of a fleet of invading space ships or cities being crushed to the ground. Gary Ross makes you fall in love with the story of a tragic young woman going against the odds and with each of her steps you really just want her to survive.

A slight downside to Ross’s direction is that the stories flow is a little clipped and rather than a flowing narrative the story is told as almost set pieces strung together, leaving you to fill in the gaps which isn’t entirely bad, but I can’t help but feel that if you have read the book the world of The Hunger Games is a much richer and more interesting place. Then again I’m so used to being force fed narrative exposition that I’m unsure of this was intended to remain true to the book or if the intention was to try view events from a single point of view, that is - from Katniss’s perspective or if this is Gary Ross’s style and he treats the audience as intelligent people rather than try to dazzle you with explosions and effects substituting for story or if there was just too much material to cover, which would not surprise me as I was genuinely surprised to discover that The Hunger Games has a run time of 142 minutes as it flew past too quickly.

Don’t read to much into the above as there are plenty of effects and graphics to dazzle you, but the good bits all come down to some absolutely heart rendering scenes that will move you.

The Hunger Games is a film of two halves. During the first we are introduced to the bleak dystopian world of District 12 that Katniss and Peeta live in. Surprisingly similar to the world in one of Jennifer Lawrence’s previous impressive films - Winter's Bone. I'm guessing Ross is hoping that the parallels give the audience a grounding credibility in the leap to Sci Fi futuristic tale. Dramatically shot with a swaying camera, muted colours, forcefully clipped by abrupt editing and haunted by a desolate soundtrack all semiotics to immerse us in the stripped mining community beset by poverty and tragedy. That has forced Katniss to grow up before her time as well as teach her how to survive.

The second half of the film takes us to the Capitol where up beat electronica with a nod to A Clockwork Orange introduces is to the futuristic polished and glittering but seemingly artificial world of the big city life where the haves live in wasteful luxury compared to the have nots of the outlying 12 Districts.

Here we meet the rest of the competitors in The Hunger Games as well as the outlandish and bizarre characters that inhabit the Capitol. The slick Capitol and indeed The Hunger Games themselves a dry swipe at the popular culture that barrages and pervades our sensibilities every evening through television. With some of it eerily present, particularly Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the face and host of The Hunger Games. It’s unfortunate that we whizz through much of this and don’t really get a handle on the devices of the story or the characters leaving some of them coming across as fairly generic and popping in only to move the story along. Allowing Lenny Kravitz to steal the show as the most grounded and likable of all the Capitols players.

Which brings us to The Hunger Games themselves, again this could have come across as a well worn fight-off but Gary Ross keeps the finale running at a fast pace imbuing a sense of urgency. With lots of ingenuity despite deus ex machina rearing it's barking head up more than once and some of the graphics just a little too out of place. But I didn't care because with some genuinely touching scenes in which Katniss sets herself apart from the others I was too busy willing her on.

A challenge for the Hunger Games is that it is not an entirely original idea and owes much (possibly more than anyone is willing to admit) to the classic 1975 Sci Fi film Rollerball. But I suspect many of the target audience of The Hunger Games are unaware of this or if they they’ll even care as between Jennifer Lawrence’s heart rendering performance and Gary Ross & Suzanne Collins deftly avoiding too many cliches it certainly deserves our money for over two and a half hours+ worth of entertainment. If there is one summer blockbuster you see this year the odds are in favour of The Hunger Games probably being the most solid entertainment you’ll experience.

The Hunger Games release date: 23 March 2012
Set in a future where the Capitol selects a boy and girl from the twelve districts to fight to the death on live television, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister's place for the latest match.

Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth

the hunger games poster
Image: The Hunger Games Poster