Welcome to 2013, I hope it works out for you!
As an accompaniment to the physical pain of eating too much food over the course of Christmas day, I sat down with the girlfriend plus relatives to gorge myself on The Hunger Games. As you’ll know, unless you’ve been living in solitary confinement, this is the first of three films based on the insanely popular Suzanne Collins novels. I ask you, what better way to enhance a day of good-will than to watch a film about a group of teenagers murdering each other graphically for the enjoyment of the masses?
I am one of those Les Irritables who argues that books are almost always better than the movies that spawn from them – the famous exception being the Lord of the Rings. As a rule I prefer not to watch a film until I’ve read the book, especially if the book promises to be as fulfilling as The Hunger Games, and conversely the film’s hero poster is a girl drawing a longbow. Incidentally the last time I saw a woman draw a longbow in a film was Keira Knightley in Arthur. Like a bug caught in wooden acting sap, I couldn’t wash off that sticky feeling of having to watch Keira Knightley butcher any part that isn’t a period drama. As such I settled uncomfortably into my seat and distracted myself momentarily by taking a wafer thin chocolate from the Quality Street tin on the coffee table. Then regretted it immediately.
An important contextual element that you should probably be aware of is that all of my fellow audience, had in fact read the book. I thus had a multitude of different perspectives and attitudes to contend with while also having a useful source of information for the plethora of questions that sprang forth during the film. And it was within this environment that my primary personal issue was loosed. Would I have enjoyed the film half as much, if I hadn’t had the Hunger Games encyclopaedia Britannica close at hand?
On the whole director Gary Ross does a fairly good job of taking what is a somewhat sereal and fantastical world and making it into something credible and engaging. The key to this success is the tonality of the movie which is consistent and comfortable throughout. This brings into sharp focus the deficiencies of The Hobbit which tried to keep one foot in two camps – standalone children’s story vs Lord of the Rings prequel. The Hunger Games in contrast is steadily a teen film which can also be enjoyed by adults – faithfully in keeping with the expectations of the book’s fan-club. The stereotypes (particularly the antagonists), questionable acting and comparable novel inaccuracies can all be overlooked to some extent as they appear to compliment the tone which I’d personally describe as mid-teen angst.
The tasty Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent job of playing the semi macho, semi vulnerable heroine and is a strong presence that the audience has no problem supporting. The violence is graphic, perhaps too much so for a young audience, but which is also necessary for what is an extremely violent concept. The main flaw and barrier to the success of The Hunger Games movie is how it delivers the tricky and complex world of the story. It is by no means a short film at 142 minutes but there simply wasn’t enough explanation or backstory to truly immerse and convince the audience without backup from the literary counterpart. Looking at the scores and other reviews I’ve read, it appears that The Hunger Games has had only a luke warm reception which suggests to me that my Hunger Games encyclopaedia was indeed an important facilitator for my enjoyment.
I was privy to the backstory such as, what happened before, “who are they?” “Why do they dress in burlesque?” Etc, which enabled me to reach a more fully satisfied viewing. This is a luxury I imagine most would not have, thus perhaps take this review with a pinch of salt and reserve judgement until you’ve either read the book or seen the movie for yourself. Needless to say I’d advocate the former as a starting point as those that had read the book prior to the screening on Christmas evening, came away with no room left in their film bellies. The Hunger Games is a film for the fans of the book, which is great, but don’t expect to be treated to a masterclass of cinema. There’s more to come from this franchise so watch out for my reviews of the next instalments!