As the title of this review states, I have not read The Hunger Games. I have no idea if the filmmakers have added things, missed things out or stuck totally faithfully to the text – for all I know, in the book Katniss Everdeen could be bloke, or an animal, or a pirate. Basically, what i’m trying to say is, i’m just going to write a film review, with no comparison to the book whatsoever. So, without further ado, let’s get on with it.
The Hunger Games is further proof that young adult fiction is a licence to print money. Twilight and, to an extent, Harry Potter (although Potter does appeal to younger readers as well) have gone on to become nothing short of box office sensations, and it looks as if The Hunger Games and its sequels are well on their way to doing the same.
For those unfamiliar, plot thus: Following a civil uprising, America (known as Panem here) has been split into twelve districts. To remind them all not to mess with The Man, and for the amusment of the upper classes watching on TV, every year one boy and one girl from each district are forced to fight to the death in The Hunger Games with only one person being victorious. When Primrose Everdeen from District 12 gets chosen for the games, her elder sister Katniss offers to take her place and, along with Peeta, the male chosen from her district, they must do their best to survive.
It’s a very interesting concept, even though not a totally original one as the Japanese Battle Royale has already covered similar territory. However, despite the similarity between the two films (that’s another blog for another time), The Hunger Games stands on its own two feet superbly, and there’s a good chance anyway that many won’t even be aware of the Japanese film. No harm, no foul there.
The characters were well realised for the most part and Jennifer Lawrence played the role of the strong yet vulnerable Katniss admirably. However, we don’t get to see much of what drives Katniss and, aside from a couple of particular touching moments, she seems to take everything in her stride, which seems odd for a girl thrown into an insane kill or be killed tournament to do. Perhaps it would have been nice to see a little more anger or conflict in Katniss, particularly when she makes her first kill; she doesn’t seem to show much emotion and just acts as if it’s totally natural. Peeta is probably the weakest character in the film, seemingly being there for necessities’ sake rather than anything else, and his ‘super strength’ seems an odd skill for someone who is smaller and skinnier than most of the other male contestants.
Probably the best piece of casting in the film is that of Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, Katniss and Peeta’s mentor and a former winner of The Hunger Games. Now a drunk, Haymitch really can’t be bothered with the fuss of training the pair, although takes Katniss under his wing as he admires her fiery nature – the typical ‘you remind me of me when I was younger’ type of thing. Harrelson steals every scene he’s in, although this does take away some of the focus from the two about to enter the games and what they are going through. Still, i’d have happily seen more of Haymitch and his drunken, laissez faire attitude.
As for the film itself, it plods along at a decent speed, although it did perhaps take a little too long to get into The Games themselves. Many people will go and see the film wondering how Katniss is going to survive and avoid being worm food, but they might be a little disappointed having to wait half the film to find out. It’s easy to see why everything pre-games is included, I would just have liked more time in the arena. Once you’re there though, the action rarely lets up and it’s suitably violent for the older audiences but not so much that it’ll make the young’uns have nightmares. There are bludgeonings, snapped necks, impalings, but most of it is cleverly hidden through editing and camera work, and arguably the most eye-wincing death comes at the hands (or equivalent) of something entirely not human.
As is often the case, the huge amount of hype surrounding a film can ulitmately be its downfall, but The Hunger Games has more than enough substance to carry it through. It straddles the line of teen and adult excellently, and the characters are infinitely more likeable and believeable than those in its peer, Twilight. Lionsgate have said that whether the sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, get made is purely on whether The Hunger Games makes enough money. With box office takings in the hundreds of millions of dollars and still rising, it seems Lionsgate may just green light the sequels, and i’m already looking forward to seeing where the story goes. Although I may well have read the books by then.
Words: Chris Thomson