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Review: The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence and the underused Liam Hemsworth

The first chapter in a new cinematic series is always an exciting one and The Hunger Games is no exception. Possibly the most anticipated film in recent months, Gary Ross' (Pleasantville) adaptation of Suzanne Collins' novel has broken all advanced ticket sales records and has been the subject of an almost overbearing amount of hype. The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future where North America has been split into various Districts and is now referred to as Panem. After an unsuccessful uprising, an annual raffle is held in each of the twelve districts where one boy and one girl, aged between 12 and 18, must compete in The Hunger Games - where each contestant must battle the others for their own survival. We follow two participants from District 12, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) on this journey. 

At a length two hours and twenty minutes, it would be easy to call The Hunger Games overlong but the narrative is well paced and engaging. The first half of the film focuses on the build up to the Games, which is one of the most exciting aspects - we are introduced to these almost working class characters, torn from their rural home and dropped into this bizarre, glossy world of pulsing neon lights and garishly dressed characters. These people become overnight celebrities and are literally churned out, being forced to fight for survival. This is an obvious parallel on the savagery of modern culture and the notion of fifteen minutes of fame. The Hunger Games also explores the concept of man's technological advances, where despite this we still has a thirst for blood - almost primal, animalistic instincts. Whilst The Hunger Games is trying to make an important point, these concepts feel like they has been done to death (excuse the pun) in countless other cinematic/televisual forms.

Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson & Josh Hutcherson
Given that the subject of man's bloodthirsty nature is so prevalent in the film's themes -this is never truly satisfied. The survival focused second act, never truly conveys the torment these youths must be facing - being plucked from their homes and forced to kill. Occasionally when we do get to see some hand to hand combat or moments of violence, The Hunger Games becomes real, brutal and gripping (mainly in one gruesome sequence when the Games begin in a frenzy of violence) but for the most part, the brutal nature of the hunt is shown off screen, so it rarely feels authentic. In my opinion, this is most likely a case of trying too hard to cater for the Twilight audience (pardon the expression) and considering the brutal nature of the Games, this should not be the priority.

Gary Ross's direction is highly capable but lacks any distinct visual style. We are given glimpses of genuine talent in the tense, claustrophobic cat and mouse chases where handheld camera and close-ups are the techniques of choice. However, for the most part, the direction of The Hunger Games is lacking any clear visual flair - that said it is certainly not a poorly made film.

The main success of The Hunger Games comes from the casting of the sublime Jennifer Lawrence. The actress brings a quiet determination and resilience to the role of Katniss and through this restrained performance, we feel attached to the character. Less successful is the casting of her fellow District 12 partner, Peeta played by Josh Hutcherson, who spends most of the film with his mouth open as if he had wandered onto the wrong film set. The character of Peeta is an annoying one - he is drab and unlikeable, bringing little to the story other than serving as a hindrance to Katniss. Perhaps a better actor like Liam Hemsworth may have been suited to the part - Hemsworth's appearance in the film feels somewhat pointless, simply providing a clichéd love triangle aspect to the plot. Hopefully, Hemsworth will feature more heavily in the sequel.

Scene-stealer extraordinaire, Elizabeth Banks alongside Lawrence 
My main enjoyment of The Hunger Games came through its host of fascinating supporting characters which features some truly fine character actors. The virtually unrecognisable, Elizabeth Banks shines as the garishly dressed, District 12 escort, alongside Woody Harrelson as the somewhat camp mentor to the competitors. Also on top form is the wonderful Stanley Tucci, as the smarmy, in-your-face presenter of the Hunger Games coverage, a complete opposite to the smooth, calming performance of Lenny Kravitz, who is wonderful as the competitor's stylist. A very hairy Donald Sutherland also pops up as The President, but is given very little to do but look nice and official. All the above characters are ones that I wanted to know more about and will hopefully be explored further on in the series. 

Despite a feeling that it is trying too hard to cater for the same audience as the Twilight franchise - The Hunger Games is a vastly superior cinematic experience - a blockbuster that allows you to think and be entertained at the same time. For the most part Ross's film grips but his direction is somewhat straightforward, nonetheless still enjoyable. There's an interesting message about modern society at the heart of the film, which has been raised by many others within the genre but the story and performances are interesting enough for this never to become an issue. Worth the hype? Probably not, but it's still damn entertaining.

RATING: 3.5/5
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