The Hunger Games (2012)
Directed by: Gary Ross
Written by: Billy Ray, Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Isabelle Fuhrman, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Lenny Kravitz, Liam Hemsworth, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley, Woody Harrelson
I am going to try really hard with this review to do something. That ‘something’ is to not mention something which I detest and is prevalent in modern cinema, something which I seem to constantly moan about in reviews, especially recent ones, and which has infected and is spreading through cinema like a disease. Let’s see if I can do this! So, moving on, we come to The Hunger Games, which may be based on the first of three books but immediately seemed to me, upon first hearing of the project, a teeny rip-off of the Japanese Battle Royale. Children are ordered to fight each other to the death in a dystopian future. Sound familiar? Film, like any art form, is constantly informed by what has come before it though, and I am told that the original novel of Battle Royale is very different in feel to the book of The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games was, not suprisingly, a big success at the box office and will no doubt do well on home release. It really is a good science fiction actioner that may be more targeted at girls than boys but should be enjoyed by most people, even if you’re not teenagers.
Yes, Twilight this is not. It may be obvious in its timely allegorical elements, from its rich folk keeping the poor in their place, to the lethal I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here nature of the actual Hunger Games, and for all the supposed borrowing from Battle Royale, you can trace it all back to The Most Dangerous Game and other films and stories, but the movie really does work as a futuristic, feminist action-adventure, albeit not one which rubs its feminist aspects in your face. It does depict a heroine battling to overcome a corrupt, male-dominated system, but rarely stops being entertaining. Influenced perhaps by some nasty experiences by the Twilight movies, I was pleasantly surprised at how well crafted and exciting The Hunger Games was. It is only really let down by…..something…..that thing…..which I am trying not to mention but does let the film down considerably…..
Anyway, the movie smartly establishes its future world very quickly, after which its first half becomes a gradual build up to the Games, but is never boring. Rather, the suspense increases and increases, and even signs of a love triangle, in one of several unpredictable aspects, don’t really slow things down. When Katniss’s game partner-to-be Peeta Mellark confesses his love for her in front of millions of people, she later gets angry with him and pushes him against a wall, then, a short time later, the two engage in a dialogue scene where they skirt around the issue in a surprisingly realistic way. Woody Harrelson shows up more and more as Haymitch Abernathy, a drunk who won the competition many years ago, and is the source of most, though not all, of the well-placed humour in the movie, while Stanley Tucci as Caeser Flickerman the game show host does what seems at times like an American variant of Anil Kapoor’s smug, self-loving game show host in Slumdog Millionaire. The garish costumes and indeed the general look given to the rich results in some colourful visuals and, as we approach the actual Games, it seems like we really are going to have a great movie.
Well, that doesn’t really happen, though the film is certainly not totally ruined and remains gripping as well as, sometimes, unpredictable, with at least one death I did not expect. However, I have decided I can’t do it. I cannot not mention it, of course I’m aware that I have totally failed in what I set out to do. ‘It’ is, of course, the horrible filming of most of the action scenes, and I’m sure you know what I mean. The camera shaking about, as if the cinematographer has epilepsy. The camera giving us lots of one second shots, as if the cinematographer has ADD. Said shots being mostly close-ups and often very random, as if the cinematographer just doesn’t know he is doing. There is some of this stuff early on in The Hunger Games, but it seems to dominate in the second half. I know that some readers will think I’m an old fuddy duddy who should just accept the way films are shot nowadays, but why SHOULD I accept it when it ignores basic rules of filmmaking AND gives me sore eyes, to the point where I had to close them a couple of times? Surely, if something is taking place, we ought to see it? I don’t ‘buy’ the argument that it makes the violence more appropriate for teenagers either. Remember in the old days where careful editing could convey a violent act without showing anything? Those days are obviously gone. Nowadays, all we tend to see is a great big blur and I am sick of it! Why are good directors such as Gary Ross shooting films as if they were a ‘found footage’ movie [where at least it is appropriate]?
Anyway, I’m not sure that neither the premise nor the actual plot of The Hunger Games benefit from toning the brutality down, brutality which, apparently, was stronger in the book, but which you may still feel is not really suitable for a young child to see. Thanks to this wonderful ’12A’ rating we now have in this country, a four year old can get into this film and see [unexplicitly, but that’s not the point] children’s necks broken, children smashed against walls, clubbing each other to death and gorily wounded by arrows [and this is stuff that is not blurry]. The Hunger Games is a solid watch for most of us though. Despite the way much of it has been shot, I reckon you’ll probably be pretty excited in the second half as Katniss battles not only other contestants but many other perils too such as mutated bees that can cause hallucinations to a crappy CG fire to crappy CG wolves. This may sound a bit crap, but so much tension has been built up, so much has been invested in our heroine, and she is so likeable and well played by Jennifer Lawrence, that I reckon you will be on the edge of your seat at times. I was. Overall The Hunger Games should be commended. It creates a reasonably convincing future world which reflects our own, has a fascinating premise which is as metaphorical as you could want, and is exciting. The 142 mins certainly don’t seem that long. I hope they film the next book in Suzanne Collins’s trilogy. I also hope they get a camera person and even a director who know how to shoot a film.
The Hunger Games Blu-Ray
With the imminent home release of The Hunger Games, I took a look at the slightly extended version which is only available on Blu-Ray. This version of the film has also been re-classified as a 15, however after watching it there’s not much I can really mention that differed from the 12A certificate cut in the cinema. Perhaps the visuals of necks being twisted and broken and the clip on a television set, referencing a past Hunger Games, of the winner smashing his fellow tribute’s face in with a brick might be what clinched the higher rating. Besides these small things, there’s nothing that this extended cut offers over the DVD version, so unless you are looking for the high definition and the somewhat average 7.1 audio, then I’d stick to the DVD release. As for special features, both releases share the same abundance of features with the exception of Preparing For The Games: A Director’s Process which is only available on the Blu-Ray release. The featurettes are in depth and a must-watch for any Hunger Games fan, detailing how director Gary Ross came up with his vision and the reasons behind his use of shaky cam. The special segments also feature interviews with the cast on their thoughts and approach to their characters. An interesting and insightful watch.
• “The World is Watching: Making of The Hunger Games” – an eight-part documentary covering the “making of” the film in all aspects from the pre-production process all the way through the theatrical release and fan reactions
• “Game Maker: Suzanne Collins and The Hunger Games Phenomenon” featurette
• “Letters from the Rose Garden” featurette – insights from Donald Sutherland on the development of his role as President Snow
• “Controlling the Games” featurette – stories and concepts behind creating the control center
• “A Conversation with Gary Ross and Elvis Mitchell”
• Propaganda Film (in its entirety)
• Marketing Archive
• “Preparing for The Games: A Director’s Process” (Blu-Ray exclusive)