The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

(M) Roadshow DVD/BD/Digital Download

I don’t think anyone would have been able to escape the buzz that has been generated by this book series and the first adapted film. It has thoroughly left Twilight and Harry Potter in its wake and for very obvious reasons. Although the first book was published in 2008, there isn’t a series in recent memory that has so captured the tone of our present media-driven culture to such an extent.

Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men: First Class, Winter’s Bone) plays the heroine Katniss Everdeen. Her performance grounds the film and gives The Hunger Games its beating heart. Panem is divided into 12 segregated districts which are ruled over by the exclusive Capitol.

Each district must send a young man and woman offered as a tribute to the Capitol where its inhabitants stage a form of “entertainment” known as the Hunger Games for the pleasure of Capitol citizens each year. The Hunger Games was a brutal institution founded after a devastating civil war.

Capitol citizens watch as the tributes battle it out to become the sole survivor of the Hunger Games. Like a violent version of The Truman Show, this barbaric practice is designed to keep the poverty-stricken districts under the tyrannical rule of the Capitol.

The story follows two young people from District 12: the steel-willed and fiercely protective Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) who has always held a torch for Katniss. Adding to this Twilight-esque love triangle is Katniss’ boyfriend Gale (Liam Hensworth).

Once in the Capitol, tributes are treated to the opulent lifestyle of their overlords and are schooled in the art of defending themselves. They are also paraded in front of “sponsors” who can help them once in the game if they empathise with their plight. All this before being sent in to battle till only one entrant will be crowned the winner. The sole survivor will live a life of luxury while the 23 dead serve as a brutal reminder of the cost of rebellion.

Could society really get to a point where children fight to the death as a form of entertainment? Is it already there if we analyse the way news is presented? Could reality television stoop to this form of voyeurism? This is what makes the film a powerfully current piece of cinema.

Be aware that this film is violent. Shaky camera and glimpses of off-screen violence have served to keep the rating down. Although, having read the trilogy it will be interesting how this violence is quelled in subsequent films, as like the Harry Potter series, the books get increasingly violent. For a piece of young adult fiction this is hardcore stuff.

Self-sacrifice is one of the bigger, over-arching themes of the film as Katniss steps in and volunteers in place of her younger sister Primrose, who is initially picked via ballot for the games. And all the tributes from the Districts go into the Hunger Games knowing only one will survive. It is how this plays out that makes for gripping viewing.

Could society really get to a point where children fight to the death as a form of entertainment? Is it already there if we analyse the way news is presented? Could reality television stoop to this form of voyeurism? This is what makes the film a powerfully current piece of cinema.

The other strength of the film is in its excellent production design and support characters. The eccentric cabal of Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Stanley Tucci add a lightness of touch to an otherwise grim premise.

Make no mistake though, Jennifer Lawrence is running this show. Her performance as Katniss has to carry the film and the nuance in her performance is excellent, from her strength of character and vulnerability which has obviously endeared her character to an army of readers. The camera rightly follows every expression on her face as we experience this wild ride right along with her.

Some slightly dodgy third act CGI can also be forgiven because of the quality of the talent on display, something the first Twilight film also did to keep costs down before the film progressed into its inevitable franchise. It also would have been nice to see a few more scenes with the sympathetic stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) whose job is to present Katniss in the best possible light to gain sponsorship, but this is the curse of translating such a dense narrative to film.

Although the film has a slightly low-key ending and there are some key plot points that have been left for another installment, there is no doubt this series will become part of the cultural conversation.

Special features

The highly anticipated release of the film on DVD and Blu-Ray will not disappoint fans.

The deluxe version of the film contains a massive three-hour behind-the-scenes experience, which delves into all areas of production.

Extras cover casting, special effects, the training of the cast to enable them to emulate the tributes they are portraying, production and sound design.

Of particular interest will be the extensive interviews with director Gary Ross, whose specific vision for the film is fascinating. Far from being a big budget production (it cost $70 million to make) Ross treats the film and the source material with the respect it deserves.

The directors and producers were careful not to glamorise the violence in the film and to tell the story from their protagonist’s (Katniss Everdeen’s) point of view.

Specifically, Ross talks about the fact that the film could have been a glossy science fiction affair but there were decisions made early on in the production process to ground the film in the present, making it speculative rather than over emphasising the sci-fi elements of the story.

For anyone who is interested in the popularity and timeliness of the books, this is an excellent documentary, examining the social commentary, themes, ethics, morals and ideas in the film from both the perspective of the author Suzanne Collins and the producers of the film — in short, an excellent companion to what is the most anticipated film series in the next few years.

Unfortunately Ross isn’t directing the subsequent films Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part 1 and 2; which is a shame, because his unique vision and passion to tell the story properly will be missed in future instalments.

Adrian Drayton


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