I’m back, baby! After a few months concentrating on selling out, I’m ready to rejoin the obscure bloggers’ ranks once again. That’s not to say I’m not going to continue infecting other parts of the ‘Net. There’s plenty of me to go around, guys. Well, if my BMI is anything to go by.
The Hunger Games (2012)
Much like the Twilight series before it, it seems that The Hunger Games has tapped into the lucrative young teen market and made a goddamn bundle in the process. That’s where the Twi-likenesses end though. On the subject of comparisons, let’s get this out of the way. Yeah, there are similarities to Battle Royale but it’s not the Americanised rip-off some people have been decrying it as. To my eyes, the film shares DNA with not only Battle Royale, but Lord of the Flies, The Running Man, The Truman Show and I even saw a little bit of First Blood in there (Katniss reminded me of a female Rambo or “Rambette”, if you will.). Don’t piss on things because they’re popular, piss on them because they deserve it. Fact of the matter is, The Hunger Games doesn’t deserve it. It’s genuinely great.
The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic, dystopian version of the United States called Panem, where the country is split up into an extremely wealthy capital and surrounded by 12 impoverished districts. As punishment for a working-class uprising over 70 years ago, a barbaric, televised gladiatorial battle called The Hunger Games is held each year in which 24 young people or “tributes” (a male and female from each district) are chosen by a lottery and forced to kill each other until only one victor remains. We join District 12’s Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers to enter the games in place of her younger sister, and follow her journey to the Capitol along with male tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) as they prepare to fight for their lives. The overall plot is solid. I loved the backstory, the post-apocalyptic setting and the ideas and issues the film tackles. From the opening, there’s a palpable sense of dread as we build up to the games themselves. This isn’t some lunkhead action where the main character finally has an outlet for their mad brutality skillz (à la Ah-nuld in The Running Man). Whilst not helpless, Katniss is still vulnerable and we are scared for her. Speaking of Katnip Everyteen, Jennifer Lawrence is really impressive as the lead. She plays Katniss with a determined resignation, rather than slipping into ball-busting, female badass clichés. Josh Hutcherson was alright as Peeta, with most of his lines muted in my head due to his jaw being one of the squarest I’ve ever seen,second only to that guy in Michael Bay’s 1996 masterpiece The Rock. Woody Harrelson pops up as a past champion with an understandable drinking problem. Donald Sutherland mumbles a few lines through a white beard, Elizabeth Banks changes costume a lot and Lenny Kravitz successfully pulls off gold eyeliner. Most of the adults are inconsequential. The focus here is on the kids and rightfully so.
The Hunger Games deals with some dark stuff. Children pitted against each other in a battle to the death is a terrifying concept. There’s something deeply unsettling about how psyched Panem’s 1% are for their annual crueltyfest. The thing that sent shivers down my spine is merely alluded to in general conversation between Katniss and hometown hunk Gale (Liam Hemsworth), where it transpires that if you are starving, you can get food from the government in exchange for another entry into the lottery with some people having to rely on this system so heavily, being picked is a damn near certainty. Brr. Despite being rabbited about endlessly, I didn’t find the violence that shocking. It’s pretty strong for a 12A, but Quantum of Solace had the same rating and had the unbelievably grim scene where the CraigHulk stabs a man in the neck before shanking him in the back of the thigh. He then proceeds to lie the man down, all the while checking his pulse and patiently waiting for the poor bastard to bleed out. My point is, hand-wringing parental groups and Daily Mail readers have (unsurprisingly) got it wrong. The film shouldn’t be a 15. As a parent, you should just pay extra attention to the “A” bit in the 12A rating. The film sidesteps the gore anyway with liberal use of the Bourne shakycam, which can get distracting. However, at least its use here is justified given the already established fanbase, rather than just a cheap technique to make the film look “edgy” and “dynamic”. The deaths are harrowing though. It’s just some of them smack of compromise and considering the bleak, grim world we’re presented, shying away from kiddie deaths at the last minute seems a bit pointless. I wasn’t gunning for decapitations or anything, it’s just really noticeable at times. Especially the fight with the psycho knife girl who (invisotext for spoilerphobes) seemingly just ups and dies after being slammed against a wall a few times.
I really liked the whole “playing up for the cameras” angle. Katniss is constantly reminded that it’s a TV show and to court the sponsors who can aid her in battle with little gift packages like much-needed medicine. The fake relationship she has with Peeta is well handled and takes a few sideswipes at reality TV while it’s at it. There are a few things that didn’t make sense to me though. Why is she known as “The Girl on Fire” when Peeta was wearing the same outfit? Secondly, did Cinna just create this new technology of fake fire? Thirdly, what was the point in sucking up to the sponsors when Haymitch was the only one sending her stuff? FUCKING STOP RIGHT THERE. I know what Hunger Games fans are going to say: (adopt a grating nerd voice”) “It’s explained in the book blah blah blah” /nerdvoice. I don’t care. A film adaptation is a tabula rasa as far as I’m concerned. It’s the film’s job to explain these technicalities if it includes them and it’s the film’s fault if it doesn’t do that well enough. Having the commentators (Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones) explaining the rules of the games is a neat touch, but they are overused and soon become irritating. Also, Peeta’s camouflage “skill” is laughable and raises more questions than it should. I felt the ending was rushed too, with some shonky CGI undercutting the drama somewhat. Still, (invisotext) I really liked Cato’s last scene. Instead of just a psychopathic hulking brute, it turns out he had some humanity left in him too. Whilst in spoiler territory, Seneca Crane’s (Wes Bentley) last scene was darkly brilliant.
I thought The Hunger Games was great. It’s dark, exciting and enthralling. It’s a good, solid film that mostly sticks to its guns. Bring on the sequels.