Hunger Games, The
- Released: Saturday, 24 March 2012
- Runtime: 142 mins.
- Distributor: Lionsgate
The Hunger Gamesis a sci-fi fantasy based on the first of three novels written for young adults by the American television writer and novelist Suzanne Collins. Fans young and old worldwide have been waiting for the ‘Games’ to begin since casting was first announced last year, and most won’t be disappointed.
Set in the dystopian future, after a number of catastrophes and the crushing of all dissent, North America is now Panem, Roman-inspired, fascistic state, whose fiefdom is divided into a ruling Capitol and twelve districts. The districts are hierarchical and policed by ‘Peacekeepers’ who look like Stormtroopers from Star Wars. Those who live in the Capitol and Districts 1 and 2 enjoy wealth and privilege, while those in District 12 are the poorest and most powerless.
In commemoration of a rebellion ruthlessly crushed 74 years before, two young people,a boy and a girl aged between 12 and 18,are chosen by lottery each year to represent their District in The Hunger Games, a gladiatorial contest modelled on the Roman circus, which pits the teenagers one against the other in a brutal battle for survival.
Designed to both entertain the masses and subjugate them into submission, the Games are broadcast throughout Panem on television, and everyone must watch. When 12 year-old Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields) is selectedfrom District 12, her 16 year-old sister Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence, Winter’s Bone), whose skill in hunting puts food on her family’s table, volunteers to take her place.
Also selected from District 12 is PeetaMellark (Josh Hutcherson, The Kids Are All Right),the baker’s son, who is secretly in love with Katniss. Katniss is by nature a loner, whose only friend in District 12 is Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth, Neighbours). But under the mentorship of ex-Games champion Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson, No Country for Old Men), both Katniss and Peeta must collaborate together to overcome competitors who have trained all their young lives for this event.
Ross has brought Collins’ novel to the screen with great realism, and the book’s comparing of the future to times past as well as today, makes for a world that is both immediately recognisable, and discomforting.
District 12 is an impoverished Mining Community in the Appalachians, whose people wear clothes and live in conditions that remind the viewer of the Great Depression, and Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Katniss retreats to the forest like Robin Hood, where in defiance of strict lawsshe shoots deer and birds to put food on her mother and sister’s table. Meanwhile in the hedonistic Capitol, spy-cameras, giant television screens and Orwellian double-speak makes sure that the masses cannot think for themselves.
Despite the grimness of its theme, The Hunger Games is enthralling to watch. Young readers and their parents should note that the violence inherent in the story is more graphic on screen. But there is much to enjoy in this well-made, enlightening film.
Jennifer Lawrence has a commanding presence, and her intelligent portrayal of Katniss gives the story its believability. Stanley Tucci is excellent as Caesar Flickerman, the ‘host’ of the Games which are presented as a game show or challenge on reality TV, as is Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, and Donald Sutherland as Panem’s cold, shrewdly calculating President.
Review by John Mulderig:
Although targeted at teens, the dystopian adventure "The Hunger Games" involves enough problematic content to give parents pause. Responsible oldsters will want to weigh the matter carefully before giving permission for clamoring kids to attend.
At first glance, the depressing futuristic premise of the piece - inherited from Suzanne Collins' best-selling trilogy of novels, on the first volume of which the film is based - makes it seem unlikely fare for a youthful audience.
In a post-apocalyptic North America, have-not youngsters from oppressed outlying districts are chosen at random to participate in the titular event, a televised survival tournament staged each year for the entertainment of the decadent elite who populate their society's luxurious capital city.
Since combatants are forced to battle one another - and the hostile wilderness environment in which the games are set - until only one remains alive, the fearful ordeal also serves to keep the once-rebellious, now cowed underlings intimidated.
Director and co-writer Gary Ross' script, penned in collaboration with Collins and Billy Ray, tracks two teens caught up in this gladiatorial horror show. As early scenes reveal, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) was selected in the usual way. Heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), by contrast, altruistically volunteered herself as a substitute after her vulnerable younger sister Primrose's (Willow Shields) name was drawn.
What follows, as this sympathetic duo confronts their doom, is an effective combination of epic spectacle and emotional drama during which humane values are pitted against Darwinian moral chaos.
Insatiable media coverage, led by smarmy TV host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), and the wildly off-kilter values of the foppish upper crust, embodied by Peeta and Katniss' nannylike escort Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), satirically mirror some darker aspects of our own time. (Interestingly, depending on the individual viewer's politics, the basic allegory can be read either as a critique of overweening big government or of the trampling under of the 99 percent.)
But sensibilities are not spared as the grim contest unfolds: painful injuries brought about by swords, arrows, hatchets and even the creative use of a hornets' nest are all portrayed unblinkingly. On the upside, foul language is entirely absent, as too is any sensual activity beyond kissing. So, despite the elements listed below, "The Hunger Games" may possibly prove acceptable for mature adolescents.
The film contains considerable, sometimes gory, hand-to-hand and weapons violence and graphic images of bloody wounds.