Sunday, April 01, 2012

The Hunger Games

Year: 2012
Director: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Wes Bentley, Amandla Stenberg, Donald Sutherland

Plot: A country called Panem (once known as North America), is divided into twelve districts. As punishment for a rebellion many years ago, a young man and woman are selected from each district as 'tributes' to participate in the annual Hunger Games, where they must fight to the death until only one remains. In District 12, Katniss Everdeen volunteers as a tribute to save her younger sister from taking part when she is chosen. Together with male tribute Peeta Mellark, she travels to the Capitol and must find a way to survive the arduous tournament.

Review: The Hunger Games has been compared to a few other films. Some say it's like the Japanese flick Battle Royale (which I haven't seen), where students are forced to kill each other or they will all be killed. Others say The Hunger Games is a better version of Twilight, judging by the age group it is targeted at. But at the heart of it, the film focuses more on its lead character Katniss and how she has to survive the odds stacked against her.

To that end, director Gary Ross chooses Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, and it's a great move. Lawrence is a fine actress and immediately owns the role. Ross puts the film in Katniss' point of view 90% of the time, thus it is to Lawrence's credit that she is more than able to carry the film from start to finish. Also great in a supporting role is Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, who harbours feelings for Katniss. Hutcherson and Lawrence work well together and make their partnership before and during the games very convincing. It's interesting to note that the plot puts Katniss and Peeta in a reversal of typical roles, where she is the alpha male and he is the weaker one.

Other standouts include Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy, the only winner of the games from District 12, who becomes a mentor to the two. Haymitch is smart and bold, but a drunk at the same time, and this is a role that Harrelson is most suited for, and he pulls it off splendidly. Elizabeth Banks finally finds a role that suits her, as she plays Effie Trinkett, the flamboyant representative that takes the two to the Capitol. I also liked Stanley Tucci who hams it up as Caesar Flickerman, a talk show host who promotes the show's contestants on TV.

Credit goes to Ross who translates successfully the world in Suzanne Collins' book to the big screen. The Hunger Games is basically an extreme version of a reality show, where the audience cheers for blood and death. The way the tributes are made over and presented to the audience is truly interesting, and at the same time ironic, since most of them will soon be killed in violent fashion. Since we crave for reality shows these days, the message this film brings is relevant indeed.

However, the film starts to drag the moment the games begin. The first few kills are handled swiftly and jarringly, with shaky camerawork and absolutely no focus on who kills who. I understand that the shaky cam is meant to amplify Katniss' point of view, but it doesn't help when the audience can't see much of the action. Speaking of which, considering the age group this film is aiming for, the action is mostly subdued and there is almost no blood visible, which is frustrating since this is a fight to the death, isn't it? The lack of action leads to a lack of urgency, which makes the games rather dull, at least till the climax.

But overall, thanks to the great buildup and character development, The Hunger Games manages to be entertaining more often than not. A sequel is being planned and I'm hoping there's more to look forward to next time around. (3.5/5)

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