Going in to see The Hunger Games I was unsure of what to expect. I had not read the books, and was only aware of the trailer and pre-release buzz. The film began with text to fill you in on the basic setting of the film, and then opened with the central character Katniss Everdeen, played brilliantly by X-Men: First Class‘s Jennifer Lawrence, living in a run down shanty village, where the people have to hunt their own food, and they appear to dress as if they’re in Doctor Quinn: Medicine Woman. The future looks bleak. In fact, the future looks like a hundred years in the past.
We’re shown that Katniss has excellent skills as a hunter. Just when you start to think that the film will be set in this pastoral setting, a futuristic vehicle cruises by overhead, signalling the start of the Reaping. The Reaping is where one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen, from each of the twelve districts are selected to take part in a battle to the death known as The Hunger Games. It is how the ruling classes in District 1 keep the less fortunate citizens from the poorer districts in check and prevent them from another uprising. When Katniss’ younger sister Primrose is picked, Katniss steps in and takes her place. Sounds bleak, and it is.
The film spends the first hour setting the scene before the game commence. The dull greys of the reaping, and bleak Western setting of the Katniss Everdeen’s life is then starkly contrasted by the opulence and bright colours of the rich in District 1 where the Games take place.
Woody Harrelson delivers a great performance as a grim portent of what is to come should they be the lucky survivor. He is a character who appears to have given up on life and is nothing more than a kept man. Lenny Kravitz’s performance on the other hand is not so great, yet still comes across as likeable character. In a future so bleak, the smallest acts of kindness and hope are very heart-warming and demonstrate how these people should be towards each other.
Once the games commence, the opening is a bloodbath, but not too graphic for it’s 12A UK certificate. Very early on the audience sees who the bad guys are, as they dispense with a good number of the faceless other combatants. What follows I would best describe as The Running Man meets Lord of the Flies. Groups of vicious teens teaming up and taking glee in the slaughter of their competition and even laughing about them pleading for their lives. It is an uncomfortable watch, but offers a good commentary on reality TV.
The games are commented on for the viewing public by a blue-haired Stanley Tucci and oddly-haired Toby Jones (both of whom were great value in last year’s Captain America: The First Avenger). Stanley Tucci channels The Running Man’s Killian very well, and is very good at mirroring current entertainment shows in the type of interview questions and bravura. The violence is shown off camera for the most part, and is brave of the filmmakers to show how grim this set-up actually is.
This film never hides the fact these are kids killing kids and doesn’t mind showing you the odd bloodied face or vacant dead stare of a recently deceased child. In many ways the film appears minimalistic. It never shows too much violence, and never shows too many CG effects. For the most part in the arena, it is people running and hiding and hunting in the woods, and keeping the tension high with excellent close calls and character moments, courtesy of the key players. Donald Sutherland is also pretty sinister in this first chapter, but is unfortunately under-used (although from the ending I imagine his character to be more focused in the sequels).
The film was fantastic. I would recommend it, and would hope to see the next two books of the series brought to the screen as well. There have been many failed attempts to adapt book series into film series, such as The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising (featuring this film’s main antagonist in the arena), The Golden Compass, Eragon, and Stormbreaker (I would mention Percy Jackson except a sequel is now scheduled for release next March). This is one of the best adaptations of a young adult book in a long while.
The Hunger Games: may the odds be ever in your favour.