film review: The Hunger Games (2012)

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film review: The Hunger Games (2012)

See here for clips and trailers of The Hunger Games.

If you’ve read my clips and trailers post for The Hunger Games, then you’ll already know I was really looking forward to this film. If you didn’t then… I was really looking forward to this film. I read the first book of the trilogy in a day two weeks ago and I was utterly caught up in the world Suzanne Collins had created. Not surprising really because it is firmly in my favourite genre of fiction, the dystopian future. I’m all over it.

The Hunger Games 2012 movie poster, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh HutchersonFor those of you haven’t read the books, The Hunger Games follows the story of Katniss Everdeen. Katniss is 16 and lives in District 12 in Panem, a segregated dystopian state built on the ashes of North America after an unspecified devastating event (aren’t they all). Ruled by a Totalitarian government, poor, hungry, downtrodden citizens of the 12 outlying “Districts” beaver away all day creating goods for the rich spoiled elites living in the “Capitol”. 75 years before the novel is set, an ultimately unsuccessful uprising occurred in the districts and of that uprising was born The Hunger Games. The Games became an annual event where the districts have to send two randomly drawn “tributes”, a boy and a girl aged 12 to 18, to the Capitol to participate in a fight to death…

As they say in Highlander – There can only be one. Victor that is. Victor of The Hunger Games.

Probably more information than you need, but there you go.

I furnish you with the surfeit of information because I’ve seen a lot of people saying that it sounds just like a toned down American version of the ultraviolent Japanese cult film, Battle Royale. Well, it’s not… At all… And it’s a shame that people think it is. The Hunger Games is only the first part of a trilogy which goes far beyond what BR brings to the viewer. Obviously as a fan of the book I’m operating on more information than you’ll get in the film but there’s plenty there to set it apart from BR, just watch it and see.

Course, the question is… is it any good?

And the answer is…

Yes, mostly.

As with any adaptation of a novel one’s read, it’s difficult to get away from either filling in the blanks or noting what changes they’ve made. I had exactly the same problem with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I spent half the time thinking “Oh, that’s not how that happened” and “Hey, why’d they cut that?!”. It was particularly difficult since I read The Hunger Games novel so recently.

Basically, the problem with The Hunger Games movie is this. There’s too much going on, too many relationships to keep track of, to cut it down to 142 mins. And 142 minutes isn’t short, but as someone who knows the story, it flies by. I think if they’d refocused a little and added a bit more it could have been amazing… but as it is, it’s a little off for me.

The most obvious example of this is the beginning set up, before the Games. I felt like it was on fast-forward, a snippet of each character and event here and there and all of a sudden they’re in the arena. But the truth is, it takes about an hour to get there. I think they’ve made a mis-step here – 10 more mins on it, or cutting more out and styling it in a different way might have meant we’d got a better view of the characters and made the time spent on it more rewarding for a clean slate viewer. Also, I think fans may feel a litle short-changed by the way it’s all been handled.

I also think that because of the stuttering start, there are some parts during the games and especially toward the end, which are going to feel very rushed to an unfamiliar audience. If the work had been done at the beginning there’d have been less to do at the end and, I think, it would have been a more satisfying conclusion.

Those shaky parts aside, there are some great things about the film. There’s enough going on to keep the story flowing. This is not a film that you could accuse of being bloated, even though it’s almost two and half hours long. The locations all look the part, the Districts, the capital city, the Games Arena itself all appeared as you’d imagine them. The Games themselves are suitable vicious without being too bloody to push it over it’s desired 12A rating.

The strong casting also proved itself to be spot on, particularly Stanley Tucci’s. Elizabeth Banks is unrecognisable as Effie Trinket, while Jennifer Lawrence proved she’s at home in a setting that, at times, bore more than a passing resemblance to that of Winter’s Bone. It’s just a shame that we didn’t see more of the other key characters from the novel.

My biggest praise is for how they’ve adapted it for the screen. The book is told in the first person, through Katniss’s eyes, so you might expect they’d have had to use a narrator. The lazy way out. Instead, they’ve made some clever use of peripheral characters and expanded our scope of view to allow more insight into the context of The Games. Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that because it’s so long, they’ve left everything in. They’ve cut plently. Quite a few whole characters have got the chop and some scenes one might consider important have been relegated to glimpses. Fortunately again, they’ve been smart in the way they’ve changed the flow and, aside from the need for a little more character set up, I don’t think anything will be missed.

Well, things will be missed by fans – I’m sure many, like me, will be left wishing it was longer or that all three books were just turned into a tv mini-series – but I do reckon that most fans should be satisifed by the changes they’ve made.

The thought had crossed my mind, before seeing it, that they might simplify the story right down for people who hadn’t read it. Turn it into an action film – make it all about The Hunger Games… but I guess they have at least 2 more movies to think of so they’d needed to get the characters in there. I’m glad they didn’t go that way. Hopefully that will further tame the claims of it being a Battle Royale clone.

On balance, this Hunger Games movie bodes well for the coming films. The second adaptation, Catching Fire, is already set for November 2013 and I’ll be happy to see it, despite my misgivings with this one. Personally, I think there’s less going on in Catching Fire so perhaps we’ll get the chance to connect better with the characters there. Plus, given that this flick is shaping up to be a massive box office hit, it’ll undoubtedly have a bigger budget…


1 Comment

  1. comment-avatar
    Yan The GarjApril 24, 2012 - 1:25 pm

    The hunger games is a stupid movie and not worth the ticket.

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