Sunday, 13 April 2014

Review: The Hunger Games

It's taken me a long time to sit down and watch this film, two years in fact. Strangely enough I was working in a cinema at the time of its release and remember selling tickets to a crowd of people, and one  girl in particular with a mocking jay face-painted on her cheek. Perhaps it was this hype that put me off it a little - like how raving about a show and nagging a friend to watch it sometimes puts them off more? Either way I was in no rush to it see it. 

Nonetheless, today I am reviewing The Hunger Games (2012) the first in a trilogy based on a bestselling series of books, which I've never read. So I'm just judging the movie as it is on screen here. 

The Hunger Games, as many will know, is set in a sort of alternative future world where after an uprising, the Capitol of the country devises an annual televised game where pairs of teens from each district must battle to the death. When Katniss Everdeen's (Jennifer Lawrence) sister is chosen as tribute, she volunteers to take her place, and must try and win the Hunger Games to survive.

First of all, I have to admire this film for taking its subject matter seriously and treating its with audience intelligence.  In the battle and death scenes it manages to hit a good balance between showing the brutality and cruelty of the games, whilst still being sensitive to its young audience - for example it gives us the realities of bloody wounds but generally refrains from using blood in death scenes. 

I'm also impressed to see that the film and the actors never tip into melodrama. For example, when Katniss thinks fellow tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) might be dead, her distress feels real but not over the top. I understand why Jennifer Lawrence was given so much praise for the role,as she is excellent. Though the character is mainly stony faced, she can subtly convey Katniss's confusion or fear, and when it comes to very emotional moments she gives a performance that feels genuine and raw.

This is demonstrated best during a scene where a certain tribute dies, leaving Katniss distraught. Actually, the death scene was done well, again with sensitivity and an emphasis on the loss - and yes, it did make me cry. 

Outside of the actual games I was surprised by the emphasis on the tributes promoting themselves to get sponsors - people who'd send them possibly life-saving packages during the games. Though I knew Hunger Games was something of a satire on reality television, I had not realised how much so.  The focus on PR and selling themselves as something special seems to echo the media and celebrity culture today. Whilst the moment when each tribute is interviewed on a chat show, each one gorgeously dressed, feels so familiar. Though it becomes really creepy if you actually stop and think about what's going to happen to these kids after the glamour stops. 

The look of the future world is a pretty typical one, with its great gaps between rich and poor. The people of the Capitol seem to reflect their obviously frivolous and cold nature through their bright and decadent, but basically ugly, clothes and homes. Honestly, next to these guys Marie Antoinette's outfits would look subtle and chic, the whole place seems to be populated by casually dressed Lady GaGa's. 

Which finally brings us to the politic side of the Hunger Games. Obviously the Games are used to keep the districts in check and at the same time, keep them pacified - but still felt like I hadn't got the whole picture. However, since the film is mainly focused on the protagonist's point of view, I think this is fair enough. Katniss is after all only a pawn throughout the movie. She battles against the Games and its expectations, but she does not have the perspective yet to see beyond that - or the time to be honest, as it is a survival contest. I'm sure that in the next film Catching Fire, the bigger picture is revealed and tackled - and with such a smart, determined and yet resolutely compassionate character like Katniss, the people in charge are going to have a fight on their hands. 

In summary
A solid film, that hits the right tone and treats its subject matter and audience with intelligence and respect. The cast all give genuine performances, especially Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Donald Sutherland - who does an excellent understated turn as President Snow. 

However though I appreciate the film's achievement, and think films like Divergent (2014) have a tough act to follow -  I must say I personally did not fall in love it. It isn't say, in my top twenty films. Still, I am rather intrigued to see how the story, and Peeta and Katniss's relationship, develops in the next films. So, who knows I might become a Hunger Games fan yet.


  1. Please please please read the books. Then you'll understand how much important background the film misses out -.- the books are excellent. But otherwise, I agree with your review, good one.

  2. I realised from hints in the film that the world was more complex and detailed - how many times a name was put in for example - and it had been simplified somewhat for the screen, as all adaptions are. I shall take a look at the books, but I'm guessing this isn't a bad adaption of them? From a newcomers point of view it seems to get its main story and message across.