A Big Brother fan from the off and a lover of movies that have a very similar premise to this ('Battle Royale' and 'Series 7: The Contenders' both spring to mind), Suzanne Collins had a bit of a head-start with me when I read the book, but the sci-fi element gave it a unique selling point that definitely added something new to the party. For those even later on the bandwagon than I was, the story is set in a futuristic United States of America, where the country had been divided into 13 'Districts' all presided over by the 'Capitol'. Many years before, the Districts had attempted to revolt against the Capitol and as punishment, the Capitol destroyed District 13 and every citizen within. To remind the people of the 12 Districts of the power the Capitol has over them, every year one boy and one girl, between the age of 12 and 18, from each district is forced to compete in 'The Hunger Games' - a battle to the death in a televised arena. 24 contestants enter the arena - only one can survive.
|Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) rocks the pink look |
while Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) pales in comparison.
The film starts pretty swiftly, as we are introduced to Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and her sister, Primrose (Willow Shields) as they go to attend the 'Reaping' where the random boy and girl are chosen. And whatdyaknow one of them is selected to take part. Didn't see that one coming. Katniss and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) go forward and take part in the games.
What really worked in this film was the contrast between the Districts and the Capitol: the oppression, hunger, poverty and sheer depression of District 11 and 12 in particular, compared to the glimmering radiance and overwhelming optimism of the Capitol. The people of the Capitol see no harm in the Hunger Games: only the entertainment value. The make up and costumes are superb and very well realised from the descriptions in the novel.
The performances from Lawrence and Hutcherson in the lead roles are excellent. They carry the movie in a way that Daniel Radcliffe and his cohort, only really managed to achieve in the last two movies of their franchise. Having not really been a big fan of Lawrence in her Oscar-nominated performance in 'Winter's Bone' she carried this movie with so much more empathy and character. They are supported ably by a generally excellent adult cast including a scene-stealing Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz and Woody Harrelson. Only Elizabeth Banks fails to convince in what could have been a wonderfully sinister role, that seems to have been dumbed down from the book.
But when it comes to the younger cast members there is a real feeling of one-dimensionality to the performances. Young Amandla Stenberg as Rue, should be an emotional centre to the middle section of the film, but plays her part like a stage-school reject; Liam Hemsworth might be pretty to look at but he really shows the limitations of his range, with an inability to even look sad properly; and the majority of the tributes in the Games are given so little to work with that there is no chance of them putting in decent performances.
Having said all that, this movie isn't about looking for Oscar-worthy performances. It's about being a good thriller, with a great story to tell - and it certainly manages that. It rips along at a great pace; the killings are varied and at times quite nasty (sorry but the censors giving this a 12A is completely beyond me - maybe I'm just getting old); and there are moments that draw genuine compassion from the audience. The scene in which District 11 mourn the loss of one of their tributes stuck right in my throat.
The movie could have benefitted from a bit more clarity in terms of which characters were alive, and which were dead, as well as some additional background on some of the other tributes, but as the story was almost entirely told from the perspective of Katniss it would have been difficult to give these elements any more depth. The pacing was one of the biggest strengths and could have been jeopardised by adding in more back story.
One of the hardest things to do when directing a popular novel is striking that balance between making the movie you want to make and keeping the fans of the original book happy. Gary Ross and Suzanne Collins have done a wonderful job of keeping that balance pretty much perfect. Newcomers to the story will understand, relate to the characters and be intrigued to see what happens next - the fans will find pretty much every event from the book resurrected in the film, with very little creative licence taken.
The only thing to do now is to move on to start reading the 2nd book in the trilogy... The rest of the world prepare to be ignored for a couple of days!
Lowdown: A faithful but imaginative adaptation of the popular novel, this is a great introduction to The Hunger Games story, with an original take on a well-worn premise. Lawrence carries the movie well and begins to show why she is becoming such a star.