Right from the go, there is the issue of the elephant in the room to be addressed and that elephant goes by the name of Battle Royale. The set up for The Hunger Games is of a gladiatorial battle to the death by people aged between 12-18, shown on TV throughout the world and hosted in a dome open to manipulation al a the Truman show. The comparison between the Hunger Games and Battle Royale is there, it would be erroneous to suggest otherwise and it is impossible to ignore, however there is more to this film than a comparison.
Other than that the first thing that you come to face to face with in Gary Ross’s adaptation of the first of the trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins is the many themes. The character played by Jennifer Lawrence, Katniss Everdeen – a reprisal of her role in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone – a smart and independent young woman dealing with incredible poverty. With the announcement of the Hunger Games and the arrival of Elizabeth Bank’s Effie Trinket is the monumental gulf between the have and have not’s. The privileged are of a different world to the under classes and they also happen to dress like an outcast from a tin of Quality Street.
When Effie Trinket arrives in District 12, she picks two “tributes” that will face certain death in the hunger games. The first is Katniss’s little sister and being the protective type she volunteers in her place, saving her sister. From there. she and her male partner, Josh Hutcherson, are whisked off to future city. It’s here where they meet the charismatic TV host played by the ever reliable Stanley Tucci, the president, Donald Sutherland. Liam Hemsworth and their mentors Lenny Kravitz and Woody Harrelson.
Under all the layers of subtext and production design lies the central idea of the hunger games. This is a film about kids killing each other; a concept has developed through multiple interpretations since its genesis in the Lord of The Flies. With both that and the Hollywood ethic which financed the film you would expect a certain amount of compromise.
Mercifully that isn’t the case, director Gary Ross attacks the source text with admirable bravery, while it is true that it could have been a lot more violent, it’s far from tame or toothless. The opening flurry of violence when the gladiatorial battle kicks off is exceptional in its ferocity. There may be a lot of hunger before you get to the games and because of that you are lulled into a false sense of security, but that moment when Jennifer Lawrence is headed for the battleground and we see her visibly terrified for the first time, it’s brilliant cinema. After that there is a lull in intensity for a while only for it to be smashed by the return of that unsettling depiction of children killing each other in cold blood. The Hunger Games never lets you rest on your laurels.
In the run up to the release of the hunger games it has often been sold as “the next twilight”, being an adaptation of a novel written with the young adult audience in mind, with a strong female character and an inevitable love triangle. It also helps that Stephenie Meyer is a fan of the trilogy. Beyond that there is nothing to tie these two films together; this is a film which isn’t as damaging as Meyer’s with its sexual politics as Meyer’s and that is helped immensely by Katniss Everdeen.
Having seen the film, it’s impossible to see the character as anybody other than Lawrence. It’s another amazing performance from her. bringing a fallibility, tenderness and even clumsiness to an otherwise strong-willed character; she brings the same sort of depth that she brings to any of her roles, a depth that is sorely lacking in blockbusters.
As enjoyably thrilling as the Hunger Games is, it is not flawless. The main problem is the cinematography, not only is the film lacking in memorable shots sans the violence, the action scenes are plagued by the intolerable use of the shakycam. It’s impossible to tell who is doing what to whom.
Issues aside, the hunger games is far better than the constant comparisons to both Twilight and Battle Royale would have you believe, and then some. The first instalment of this trilogy is an excellent film that stands strong on its own two legs, Gary Ross’s has made one of the best blockbusters in years thanks to a no holds barred concept delivered with respect for the source material and the audience. It’s also nice when you have a talented performer like Jennifer Lawrence on top form.