Sunday 13 May 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

Just when you think you can safely go along to the cinema without having to wade through fans of one teen-orientated cinematic juggernaut along comes another to assert itself as the new king of the hill. But, they all say, The Hunger Games is better than you think. It's full of more mature themes and better characters. It's darker and much better than any sparkly vampire movie. It's based on much better source material.

Well, I'll admit that there's some small degree of truth to that. However, The Hunger Games is still very much a watered down and sanitised film setting out to do little more than please the core demographic. In fact, I managed to convince my wife that the whole thing was nothing more than a metaphor for surviving high school (where popularity will get you through another day, competition is fierce, cliques develop and even if you survive to the end you'll find that you may have changed yourself beyond all recognition).

There was a great joke doing the rounds when the movie was released. It was a picture of the main characters from Pulp Fiction accompanied by the following caption: "You know what they call The Hunger Games in Paris? Battle Royale with cheese".

It's funny because it's true.

For those of you who have somehow avoided all of the hype and publicity, the plot runs something like this: It's the future and the rich and pampered stay in a lush capital city, miles and miles away from the outlying sectors that provide them with their essentials. Two youngsters (aged between 12 and 18) from each outlying sector are chosen each year to take part in The Hunger Games, a challenging experience that sees 24 enter a game zone and only 1 leaving alive. The Hunger Games is survived by those who are strong, smart and popular. Viewers remain mesmerised from start to finish.

I do have good things to say about the film. Most of the cast did a great job. Jennifer Lawrence in the main role once again shows why she's such a satisfying leading lady, Stanley Tucci is possibly one of the most dependable actors you can have in any movie, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth are both young men doing well in roles that have them playing . . . . . young men, Wes Bentley lends great support to his scene-stealing facial hair and there are quirky, and enjoyable, performances from Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland and a practically unrecognisable Elizabeth Banks.

The direction from Gary Ross (who also co-wrote the screenplay with novelist Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray) is okay but it also shows the work of a man unsure of just how to get the material up onscreen. This is not the same man who pleased us with Seabiscuit and, one of my particular favourites, Pleasantville. Nope, this is a man who knows that he has to cater to as wide an audience of teens as possible by glossing over subject matter that deserves far more mature treatment. The fact that the film doesn't quite make an enjoyable, cohesive whole (overediting is used to cover up the more violent moments, the heroine is almost completely passive for the first 3/4 of the movie and some of the plot holes seem pretty massive to me) actually makes me review it with a more charitable mindset. It's not a success but it tries as hard as it can to be all things to all people. Which we all know is a thankless, and impossible, task.

We also all know that there are many, MANY worse teen movies out there so if you end up being dragged along to this one perhaps it's best to just be thankful and try to enjoy individual aspects of it, as I did.


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