The Hunger Games (2012)

23 March 2012

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The Hunger Games. In a not-too-distant future, the United States of America has collapsed, weakened by drought, fire, famine, and war, to be replaced by Panem, a country divided into the Capitol and 12 districts. Each year, two young representatives from each district are selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal intimidation of the subjugated districts, the televised games are broadcasted throughout Panem as the 24 participants are forced to eliminate their competitors, literally, with all citizens required to watch. When 16-year-old Katniss' young sister, Prim, is selected as the mining district's female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart, Peeta, the son of the town baker who seems to have all the fighting skills of a lump of bread dough, will be pitted against bigger, stronger representatives who have trained for this their whole lives.

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"A dark and twisted sci-fi thriller, taking a provocative story and bringing it triumphantly to the big-screen..."

Since the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises have come to their inescapable endings, there is now a vacant hole left in Hollywood, crying out to be filled by a new phenomenon, and Gary Ross' The Hunger Games certainly appears to be a more than suitable fit.

Based on the critically-acclaimed trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is set in a post-apocalyptic future in a country named Panem - where the United States of America used to be. The nation is split into 12 districts and a powerful and progressive city called the Capitol, which runs an annual event called The Hunger Games - where 24 contestants (a teenage boy and a girl from each district) are chosen at random to fight to the death on national television, where only one person can survive.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen of the twelfth district, who volunteers to take place in the upcoming games in place of her younger sister who had been selected. Alongside Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) the pair travel to the Capitol to compete, and despite having the help of former winner-turned-mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), the pair, who develop feelings for one another, soon understand that they aren't to come out of this alive together, yet must continue to strive to compete in the sadistic games against the remainder of the fearful contestants from the other districts, to determine who will be the winner of The Hunger Games.

There is an incredible tension and inevitability to this feature, as it slowly builds up to the event, which takes over the second half of the film. Right from the word go the audience are fully aware that by the end of this film, 23 out of 24 innocent youngsters are to die. As the games take up half of the film there is a wonderful balance between the setting of the scene, and the action, following a similar structure to Jurassic Park, for instance.

Yet unlike Jurassic Park, the first half of the feature is much better than the second, as the unwilling youths attempt to prepare for their fate, creating a tense and haunting atmosphere. It's a simple premise and the film gets right into it - with little back story on any of the contestants. Such anonymity of the other fighters proves to be crucial in enhancing the merciless feeling to the film, as Ross understands there is no need to become personally attached to a host of people about to lose their lives.

Yet our protagonists are well crafted and Lawrence is fantastic as Katniss, managing to make her fighting ability and prowess seem entirely credible as she portrays a unremitting fearlessness. Yet where she excels is within her ability to change from being strong-willed and unflinching to displaying a sincere vulnerability, which adds to the empathy of her role. Hutcherson on the other hand is quite bland, and his character somewhat of a weak link in the overall picture.

Stanley Tucci, as always, puts in an impressive performance as the sadistically cheerful television personality Caesar Flickerman, the host of The Hunger Games - Capitol's very own Davina McCall if you will. And despite the absurdity and vivaciousness in fashion of the future depicted, the human characteristics all seem very contemporary and timeless, certainly the case with the themes explored in the feature. The Hunger Games really highlights the public's somewhat perverse hunger for extremity and bloodshed, whilst the tedious build-up to the event, the chat shows, the cat walks, for instance, also explore the celebrity culture in modern society, almost parodying reality TV shows such as Big Brother, although such shows take a somewhat less savage approach, unfortunately.

On a more negative note, the film bears a superfluous romance, as despite feeling like a uniquely harrowing and dark blockbuster, the pointless romantic storyline comes along to remind us all that this is indeed a Hollywood film. The sentimental scenes do prove to be the less enjoyable too, as the film works better when playing up to its cruel and heartless backbone.

That aside, The Hunger Games is a dark and twisted sci-fi thriller, taking a provocative story and bringing it triumphantly to the big-screen. However, the ending does prove to be somewhat disappointing as, considering the immense build up to the games, the films finale feels rather anticlimactic. Although this is merely one film of a four-part franchise, which may explain the understated ending, because effectively this isn't the ending at all...

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