Review: The Hunger Games

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks
Director: Gary Ross
Rating: 12A

May the prospects of a lucrative film franchise be ever in your favour.

This was probably the shortest gap I’ve ever had since reading a book and watching the film adaptation of it; in fact I vividly remember reading the first book in the series with a sense of haste because I wanted to finish it before I saw the film so I wouldn’t be picturing the actors instead of the characters. (That said, I did occasionally sneak a look at IMDb when my curiosity got the better of me.) That meant that during the film, I was spending more time than usual examining the differences between it and the source material – which is a subject I’ll discuss in more detail a bit further down – which perhaps means in turn that I’m less able to analyse its successes as a film in its own right. However, I’m hoping the gap between seeing the film and writing it up (not intentional, just part of a blog hiatus caused by being unnaturally busy in real life) has given me enough perspective to assess the film on its own merits.

And you can’t speak of this film’s merits for long without mentioning Jennifer Lawrence. Katniss Everdeen is a tricky character to get right, because in the wrong hands she could come across as just another stroppy, entitled teenager. Lawrence, however, has a firm grasp on the character from the very beginning, playing her with a weariness of someone forced by circumstances into being old before her time, and that weariness evolving to stunned shock after Katniss becomes District 12’s tribute for The Hunger Games. A lot of Katniss’s growth in the book is internal, done via narration and internal monologue, so I was concerned about how this would come across in the film, but Lawrence knows what she’s doing and handles Katniss’s confusion, determination and developing strength with aplomb. The rest of the cast are no slouches either: the character of Peeta is perhaps a little underwritten in the film, but Josh Hutcherson plays him with honest bravado that makes him more than just a shallow love interest. Woody Harrelson is a perfect fit for Haymitch Abernathy, Stanley Tucci is surprisingly sympathetic as games host Caesar Flickerman, and Elizabeth Banks is almost unrecognisable as the eccentric, overly made-up Effie Trinket.

At 142 minutes, this is quite a lengthy feature, and sometimes the film struggles to find the right pace for its own narrative. The build-up to the Hunger Games themselves is perhaps the best part of the film – we share in Katniss’s suspense and confusion about this alien environment, and the near-certain doom that awaits her. Once the games themselves begin, however, it’s a different story: the action sequences are flabby and vaguely-shot. I suspect that this was deliberate, in an attempt to give us a contestant’s-eye view of what’s going on, but there are times when it’s just impossible, as a viewer, to see what’s happening, and some of those times are fairly crucial plot points. It’s rare to find a director who can do action and drama equally well, and I’m not sure Gary Ross is one of those people – his strength is very much in the heart and emotion of Katniss’s predicament and the way it affects those around her, and that’s a strength the film needs to have in order to succeed, but it comes at the expense of the action sequences, which leaves the last third or so of the film feeling rushed and rudderless.

In adaptation-terms, it’s extremely faithful: hardly surprising when book author Suzanne Collins wrote the first draft of the script. When you spot which bits have been left out, it’s usually for good reason: eg the sequence at the beginning of the games where Katniss spends days trying to find water and almost passes out from dehydration, because this would be fairly boring to watch, or the revelation that the muttations that attack Katniss, Peeta and Cato atop the Cornucopnia near the end are actually genetically-engineered versions of the fallen tributes, which I think works far better as a mental image than it would on film, where you run the risk of it just looking silly and shattering the mood so close to the end. I was disappointed that so little time gets spent on the other tributes, particularly relatively important ones like Cato, Glimmer, Thresh and Rue, but I suppose they’re adjuncts to the main story at best, and the film’s long enough as it is.

So as an action movie, it’s merely decent, but as an adaptation of a much-loved book series, it’s pretty good. I gather there will be a different director for the sequel, so I’ll be interested to see how that affects things, whether they’ll get someone with a better handle on the action side of things, and whether that’ll affect the emotional core of the film. If they can just tighten up the action sequences and get the pacing a little more consistent, this could become a genuinely impressive series of films in its own right.

Coming Attractions:
Snow White And The Huntsman: Charlize Theron remains a flawless goddess.
The Amazing Spider-Man: Warning you now, I am going to have So Many Feelings about Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone when this comes out.
Lockout: This is what happens when filmmakers sit up all night reading TVTropes.org.
Avengers Assemble: …I’ll be in my bunk.
The Cabin In The Woods: In no way this movie’s fault, but the title makes me remember paying nearly £20 to see Cabin Fever in the West End on a Friday night. I’ve never felt more ripped off in my life, and I’ve rented property through Foxtons TWICE.

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One thought on “Review: The Hunger Games

  1. […] didn’t warn you. When this film featured in the Coming Attractions at the end of my review of The Hunger Games, I gave advanced notice that I would have So Many Feelings about Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, […]

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