HUNGER GAMES, THE
Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its 12 districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games. A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which Tributes must fight with one another until one survivor remains. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers in her younger sister's place to enter the games, and is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) when she and her male counterpart Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives. If she's ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena.
Review by Louise Keller:
Courage and sacrifice are the themes of this futuristic thriller, fantasy and video game that are mashed up into one hell of a tasty package. Hell is where Jennifer Lawrence's Katniss Everdeen has been since she volunteers to take her young sister's place in the annual national televised event in which there is only one survivor. It's a story about power and control in a totalitarian regime and the rise of the underdog. Like an arrow that hits its target, the highly anticipated adaptation of the first of Suzanne Collins' best selling trilogy lives up to the hype, delivering an exciting spectacle of a film with action, high technics and a well-grounded narrative, served up with creative polish on a platter of excess.
If you saw Jennifer Lawrence's star turn in Debra Granik's 2010 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Winter's Bone, battling to survive the harshness of the Ozark Woods, you will have no doubts as to her credentials here. Katniss is a survivor and a skilled archer; she and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are the two representatives from District 12, where repressed locals struggle to exist. Standing on the back of a horse-drawn chariot during the Tribute Parade, fire radiates from her all-black outfit as she is presented to the gaudy crowd; she is The Girl on Fire. In the opulent Capitol, the garish crowd adorned in bright clownish colours and wigs looks as though it may have stepped off a pantomime stage; a stark contrast to the drab setting of District 12.
There are elements reminiscent of The Truman Show, in which obstacles such as genetically engineered beasts, fire-balls and other deterrents are implanted into the path of the 24 Tributes participating in the games. Every precarious and terrifying moment is watched on giant screens around Pinem. A canon booms when a Tribute is killed; the sacrifice being a terror tactic by the authorities.
The film rests firmly with its heroine and Katniss has grit and ideals we admire. She is compassionate, brave and smart and we believe she can change things. Lawrence is superb in the role while Hutcherson is a nice contrast as the shy baker's son. Their developing romance is a sweet surprise, adding a delicate and unexpected emotional element to the harsh proceedings.
I like Lenny Kravitz as the stylist whose advice goes beyond dress-sense and Stanley Tucci is hilarious as Caesar Flickerman, the outrageous reality show host whose blue-tinged Pacino-like hairstyle matches his spangled suit. Toby Jones looks suitably ridiculous in a boofy wig as does Elisabeth Banks's Effie Trinket with cupid-bow labia-coloured lips, eyes and outfit. Woody Harrelson plays the drink-loving mentor whose first piece of advice is 'to embrace the probability of your imminent death'. By contrast, Donald Sutherland as the President imposes a solemn and philosophical air voicing his disapproval of the underdog.
The real action starts about an hour and a quarter into the film, when The Hunger Games begin and when danger takes many forms, zigzagging like unpredictable, wayward lightning. Fans of Big Brother will recognise the cynical lengths taken by the organizers to secure the show's ratings, ignoring the seriously corrupt moral issues.
The production design is outstanding and the pace relentless. We are on the edge of our seats for much of the time as Katniss faces extreme challenges in an ever-escalating scenario. It's exciting, edgy and unpredictable and leaves its audience well satisfied as it waits for the next installment.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A heroine's journey and a metaphor for the crass primitiveness of the human condition, The Hunger Games is supposedly set in a future where the great world power, America, has been turned into a fiefdom, with slaves (or their equivalents) living in wired off ghettos called Districts. I say supposedly because in most respects the setting is reminiscent of a past when kings ruled - here portrayed by the presidential Donald Sutherland, who despises underdogs. So did many royals past.
Fighting to the death as spectator sport is also old fashioned, or is it genetically human and only suppressed by the concrete of modern Western civilisation? Sacrifices of the young ditto. (See 'war' for more.) And are we complicit in that horror by watching this movie?
For those who have read the book/s, these are probably petty questions because the books are creating inner worlds within. Film creates exterior worlds into which we peer.
The cinematic visualisation of the upper class of Pinem - the nation that has replaced America - is painted with a surrealist brush that Salvador Dali might have dropped. The pointed, carved beards and coiffed hair echoing the 18th century fashion, the over-coloured everything and an extreme version of Karl Lagerfeld in the body of Stanley Tucci as the TV show host through whom the Games are delivered to the gentry in the Capitol.
This amazing fantasy land - where we would not be surprised to find Alice - contrasts with the drab poverty of District 12, which looks like a medieval farm and its folks poor and downtrodden farmers. From their ranks comes Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who is the first ever volunteer to go to the Hunger Games in a heroic stand to take the place of her much loved younger sister, who had been selected in the ballot. (Bit like conscription, if you want a quick reference.)
Katniss is joined by the young male Tribute chosen from District 12, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and it is the emotional ties between them that become a symbol for the power that the oppressed have over their oppressors - at least in a world ruled by romantic notions that love can beat hate.
But it's probably best not to read too many symbols and metaphors into this story, a sometimes harrowing fight for survival - a fight forced on youngsters against people they hardly know and certainly can't call enemies - until now. On that intellectual level, the film is less than satisfying, and the basic premise is resistant to my logic. There are distractions to compensate, such as the uncanny echoes of The Truman Show - but with the undercover cynicism ramped up to maximum.
For such a brutal story, the film avoids obvious and graphic violence - which is not a bad thing in itself, but rather blunts the impact.
Sadly the camerawork for the most part is dreadful, visually incomprehensible whenever there is any action like fighting or chasing or running; the chaos of ultra-heavy-hand-held detracts from the film's ambitions. (Surprising work from the usually excellent Tom Stern, a Clint Eastwood steady, but perhaps excused as a way of keeping the film teen-friendly at classification screenings.)
As to the performances, they are faultless, from Jennifer Lawrence as the teen with archery prowess to the veteran Stanley Tucci as the TV host, an effusive dandy who presents this reality show to a huge and hungry audience, a reality show like the gladiators gave the Romans at their most decadent. Woody Harrelson is crunchy as the old warrior turned mentor (who likes to drink).
Katniss Everdeen is a young heroine somewhat in the mould of Lisbeth Salander (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), who stands up to life's challenges with courage and conviction. It seems the world has an appetite for such heroines right now. But The Hunger Games falls short of expectations, registering a low emotional score despite all that is at stake and the intellectual essay is muddled despite the vivid elements.
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HUNGER GAMES, THE (M)
CAST: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Isabelle Fuhrmann, Alexander Ludwig, Wes Bentley, Willow Shields, Amandla Stenberg
PRODUCER: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik,
DIRECTOR: Gary Ross
SCRIPT: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tom Stern
EDITOR: Stephen Mirrione, Juliette Welfling
MUSIC: T-Bone Burnett, James Newton Howard
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Philip Messina
RUNNING TIME: 142 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 22, 2012