Ever since Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy became a global publishing phenomenon, the inevitable film version has been feverishly anticipated by its legion of fans.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where the remains of North America have been divided into twelve districts under the thumb of an authoritarian capitol. Every year, two children from each district are selected to compete in a televised blood sport known as ‘The Hunger Games’. The actual competition is a mix between Battle Royale and The Running Man, with an eager populous glued to their screens watching this sport with only one rule: survive. When her baby sister is randomly selected for the Games, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a young girl from the impoverished coal-mining district, volunteers to compete in her place. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a local baker’s boy, she is whisked to the nation’s capitol where they are trained by drunken ex-champion Woody Harrelson and feted as celebrities in front of the cameras. Which is where things get interesting.
Whereas many publicists have heralded this film as ‘the next Harry Potter’ or ‘the next Twilight’, there’s an interesting satirical streak to this story that sets it apart from those franchises. The movie arrived at an interesting time, what with the ‘Occupy’ movement still in full swing and a class warfare sentiment emerging on the back of the banking crisis. And the notion of rebellion is certainly present throughout the film as Katniss sees how the ‘1%’ live so wastefully while she struggles desperately to feed her own family. There’s also a wicked strange culture of celebrity on display in the capitol, personified by Stanley Tucci’s chiclet-toothed talk show host. There’s also some commentary of how modern audiences have become inured to violence on TV, but with the number of on-screen deaths in this film, this message is either very meta or slightly hypocritical. Either way, there’s more than meets the eye with this teen adventure.
On top of that, we have a fantastic heroine in Lawrence’s Katniss. With her natural beauty, sharp mind and resourcefulness, she’s a killer competitor with a compassionate streak that sets her apart from her opponents. Not to mention that she has archery skills to rival even Ki Bo Bae (sorry, we’re still on an Olympics comedown). Young boys and girls will enjoy seeing her get out of scraps with her wits and talents while other viewers will enjoy her will-they/won’t-they relationship with her District 12 compatriot, Peeta. Lawrence herself was a great piece of casting, with Katniss’ back story bearing incredible resemblance to Winter’s Bone. In that film, her character was also a young woman from a backwater town who would do anything to protect her siblings. Lawrence brings the same kind of resolve and grit to her role in The Hunger Games, a far glossier production.
Apart from the r young actors, there are a number of great supporting performances from well-known character actors thrown in for good measure. Elizabeth Banks has a lot of fun playing Katniss’ escort like some extravagant lady in the court of Louis XVI. Woody Harrelson is, as always, good value. With future sequels looking to expand the universe of The Hunger Games, stars like Philip Seymour Hoffman have already been lined up to join the franchise. This could very well be an American Harry Potter in the way that every British actor of note has taught at Hogwarts at some point in the last 10 years.
Much was made of the version screened in the United Kingdom. In order to earn a 12a certificate instead of a 15, the studio was forced to digitally remove blood from a key action sequence. While this is not detrimental to the overall impact of the scene, it does strike us as strange how a little blood can be isolated as the offending element of the story — especially when a lot of kids get killed over a span of 45 minutes. Whether this is enough to make you want to buy the 15 Certificate version, we don’t know: it’s good that viewers have the option, though. The Hunger Games is still a strong adventure film with a dark edge: it’s probably inappropriate for viewers under 12 but is a strangely ideal film for family viewing. It’s got a little bit of something for everyone and parents will also find themselves drawn into this violent and colourful world. Happy Hunger Games, indeed!