The Hunger Games [M]

 

Director : Gary Ross
Starring : Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz, Woody Harrelson, Liam Hemsworth
Running Time : 142 minutes
Release Date : March 22nd, 2012

‘May the Odds be Ever in your Favour.’

Based on the best-selling book ‘The Hunger Games’ , the first in a trilogy by Suzanne Collins, the movie is set in a future that has seen North America fall, only to be replaced by a nation known as Panem. Ruled from the Capitol, the country is divided into 12 districts and every year each district must submit one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 as a tribute to compete in the Hunger Games. These 24 tributes must fight to the death until only one remains. The games are telecast Big Brother style to the entire nation.

I have not read the books and even though I am aware just how popular these books are, particularly with teenage girls, I knew very little about the story.

At the start, there is a short words on screen background to the Hunger Games. It is explained that tribute is offered as penance for a public uprising some 75 years ago. We are then taken through the desolate coal mining District 12 and, as the bell literally tolls, the young people are herded into a compound of sorts and the tribute selections are made by a bizarrely dressed PR woman Effie Trinket (an unrecognisable Banks).

When the fragile younger sister of Katniss Everdeen (Oscar nominated Lawrence), is selected, our heroine volunteers as tribute in her sister’s place. Trinket tries to encourage the crowd to applaud the young woman’s decision but they remain silent. There is no honour here, it is something they must simply endure. The boy Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson) is then chosen and it is here that the people of their district show their quiet support for the tributes. They kiss their fingers and raise them in a Boy Scout style salute. It is a silent, moving moment as resignation tinged, no doubt, with relief that it is not them or their child on the dais.

The tributes are allowed 3 minutes with their family before being taken by train to the Capitol. The train’s décor is an indication of things to come. It is brightly coloured, tacky and vulgar and there is plenty of food to eat.

It is on the train that Katniss and Peeta meet their mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Harrelson), the one and only District 12 Hunger Games victor. He begins to school them, albeit reluctantly (he is only there for the drinks) in the ways of the games. Peeta learns fast and when they pull into the Capitol and are met by a large cheering crowd, he smiles and waves, playing the game.

The movie then shifts into the preparation process for the tributes. They are trained in various arts, including survival and combat, and are assessed and ranked so the public may places bets on them. They are also told how to become popular and thus gain not only public approval but all important sponsors. This sponsorship can become the difference between life and death in the arena.

We are introduced to Cinna (a riveting Kravitz) who is the dresser for the District 12 kids and becomes an ally and almost co-conspirator to Katniss. The remaining 22 tributes are also introduced and we learn more about the games, the districts and this brave new world. It is with a building sense of foreboding that these young people step up to meet their fate.

When the games finally start, a literal bloodbath spans long minutes. There has been some criticism in the press that these scenes are vague, that you cannot see who is fighting who and that the camera makes them feel woozy. It is my understanding that in the book, these scenes are particularly brutal and graphic and so I would assume that, bearing in mind their target audience, the film makers decided to go a little easy on the graphic violence. I mean, this is a story of children fighting each other to the death for the purposes of controlling the masses and a bloodthirsty public’s viewing pleasure. How graphic does it need to be? Isn’t just the idea of what we are witnessing enough to satisfy? Clearly not for some but for me, it was graphic enough.

During the games, we see the very best and worst of humanity. The baying public wanting more and more, the manipulative producers ensuring there is as much suffering as possible, the gaudy, loud TV hosts (played to divine camp, over the top and crass perfection by Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones) making it all seem just so entertaining and great fun.

We see the despairing District citizens watching as their young are slaughtered, a brief glimmer of fire and guts, a lone man protest against the system…perhaps a taste of things to come.

Within the game, we see compassion and cruelty, love and hate, friendship and war, courage and cowardice, bravery and most of all hope. The tributes use weapons, nature and their brains to try and survive. All the while, not only are they pitted against each other, the rules are changed and their environment is manipulated to make the spectacle more appealing.

Oh and what was the deal with Liam Hemsworth? He has been billed as a star of the movie and he’s in it for about 5 minutes. And I mean that quite literally. Just goes to show that it is sometimes more about the media and who you are, ummmm, spending your time with than the acting. Very disappointing indeed.

I found The Hunger Games not what I expected at all. I was looking forward to seeing it but I will admit this was mostly due to hype not the movie itself. It is a fantastic movie that you can watch for what it is or you can look within and beyond for what it may be trying say. The acting is superb and the all star supporting cast does not take away from it’s young protagonists at any time.

Most of all you come to believe in Katniss. You want her to win and you really do care about her. She shows such grace, courage and resilience that it is difficult to not want to cheer for her. This is the heroine we want our 15 year old daughters to look up to. This is the heroine we all should look up to. She carries within herself the one quality that, should humankind lose, we are all but finished as an intelligent species. Hope.

Please do go and see this movie. See it with your children. Then let them talk to you about it. Really talk. If they are anything like mine, you will be pleasantly surprised by what this story stirs within our young people.

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