The Hunger Games (2012)
Dir. Gary Ross
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley and Donald Sutherland

The highly anticipated screen adaption of Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games novel has finally hit cinemas and clearly the odds are ever in its favour. So far the film has earned a record-breaking $19.7m at its midnight screenings and a staggering $155m in its opening weekend. Becoming the third all-time highest opening behind Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($169.2m) and The Dark Knight ($158.4m).

Directed by Gary Ross, The Hunger Games tells the post apocalyptic story of 16 year old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence).  Katniss, who lives in one of her nation’s (Panem) poverty stricken districts; District 12, volunteers to compete in the annual Hunger Games after her sister is named the districts tribute. The Hunger Games, a sick ‘reality television’ tournament held by the much richer Capitol sees two tributes (a boy and a girl) from each of the 13 districts compete in a battle to the death, only one victor may be crowned.

The Hunger Games features some remarkable performances through-out. Jennifer Lawrence, whose natural charm reflects onscreen, is an absolute triumph in her role as strong and intelligent Katniss Everdeen (named after the edible plant; ‘Saggittaria’, commonly known as arrowhead. A reference to her characters archery skills). Meanwhile Josh Hutcherson’s portrayal of District 12’s male tribute and potential love interest; Peeta Mellark is both believable and charismatic. Woody Harrelson also stars as previous District 12 victor and now alcoholic; Haymitch Abernathy, who plays the role to some success. Stanley Tucci is superb; as he always is, as interviewer Caesar Flickerman. Lenny Kravitz is surprisingly good as rebel stylist Cinna. Elizabeth Banks is barely recognizable as District 12 escort Effie Trinket who brings both elegance and mere humour to the film. And forgotten actor Wes Bentley does a good job as gamekeeper; Seneca Crane, as relative newcomer Amandla Stenberg as Rue. Unfortunately the likes of Donald Sutherland and Liam Hemsworth are given little to do as President Coriolanus Snow (Sutherland) and Gale Hawthorne (Hemsworth). Hopefully the sequels explore all of the characters in greater detail.

‘Ross really nails the tone of the books in a stylish Hollywood manner’

The film’s 142 minute run time dedicates itself to making these larger than life characters both believable and likeable. Doing so magnificently by exploring each characters own motivations, talents and opinions. However, it isn’t hard to rally behind them when such little focus is put upon the seemingly ‘evil’ one dimensional characters.
The films philosophy that because everybody has an alien sounding name and are all dressed in some rather bold fashion choices means that it’s obviously the future admittedly works. Until the drawn out footage of Jennifer Lawrence running and jumping through the arena forest in the third act, causes the beautiful futuristic set design explored in the second act to be forgotten.

While there is a relatively well written screenplay at work from time to time the film does a terrible job at explaining how the games actually work. The gamekeepers are unexplainably able to change the rules and conjure up any natural disasters and monsters (that make for an anti climatic finale that spoils what could have been a fantastic third act) they wish. Which raises the questions; how are people able to bet if the rules can change at any given moment? Is the tournament taking place in some sort of sealed bubble? Or is it virtual space and if so how are the tributes interacting with it?

Although impossible to include the book’s entire back-story Ross really nails the tone of the books in a stylish Hollywood manner. Unfortunately the glossy, well shot dialogue scenes don’t convey across to the bad CGI and poorly executed, shaky cam action scenes that are surprisingly bloodier than you would expect for a PG-13 (12A).

It’s hard to fault a film that is attempting to explore some interesting ideas yet the films plot lacks the depth and excitement that many cinema goers will be hoping for. And with the hype and superb marketing surrounding The Hunger Games, it’s hard not to blame them. It’s obvious that readers of the book(s) will go away with a richer viewing experience.  As a deeper understanding of the films back-story allows them to fill in the films blank spots. Non-readers however shouldn’t be disheartened. The film is still fun, charming, nicely shot and features some stunning performances. Now with some well rounded characters ready, it will be interesting to see how the films sequel‘s improve and fair at the box office after this blockbuster triumph. May the odds be ever in their favour.

Popcorn and Soda Rating: 4/5

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