FILM REVIEW: 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.

Katniss Everdeen

Firstly, before I even attempt the review let me just say this to all the fans of the books, who were worried about The Hunger Games story, the respective castings of Katniss, Peeta, Gale and the portayal of their world, and the craziness of the Panem: you have nothing to fear.  The makers and producers have given us a movie that is equal to the books and in some instances it surpasses the story Suzanne Collins has written.

We meet Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as she leaves her mum and sister Prim behind to go and hunt the forests beyond the District’s borders.  As she moves through the town, we get visuals that are strongly Depression Era America: washed out colours and haggard looking people wearing raggedly clothes, going about the drudgery of daily lives in silence, eyes turned downwards. We see a group of coal workers heading to a mine, their faces dull, dirty and tired.

It is only when we are with Katniss in the lush green of the forest, that we get our first hint of colour but even then, it is nothing compared to what we are about to see when she gets taken to the Capitol with Peeta.

Katniss at the Reaping

The Reaping scene is done superbly well.  The camera takes us in close to the stony faces of those who live in District 12.  There is a sense of palpable terror but also resignation as the proceedings unfold.  When Prim’s name gets called, we see the unspoken relief on the faces of others standing around her, we see the shock in her eyes, we see the disbelief in Katniss’s eyes.

The scene is wonderfully downplayed, making it all the more striking.  And then, once Peeta’s name is called after Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place and all of District 12 gives them the three finger salute in stoic silence, it literally encapsulates everything that makes Katniss such a great heroine: she will endure.

The movie works because the visuals are so strong.  Beautifully shot, it juxtaposes the characters and settings against the awful shocking reality of the horror that these teens are set against one another, to kill each other, by any means possible, to be the last one standing in order to win.

I can make comments here about our current obsession about reality tv shows and how behind the scenes people plot and plan and scheme how they should go about to make the most impact, to get us, the audience on their side.  And this is of course everything that does happen in the run-up to the actual Games in the movie.  The parade of those selected from the other districts is truly magnificent, their interviews on TV to the applause and adulation of the roaring crowds, the over the top clothes, their training, the trials, it is all televised and pumped out to a hungry audience who are deliriously happy for these young people to be murdered for their sick entertainment.

Katniss & Peeta before the Cermony and Parade

I was worried that the 12A rating would somehow take away from the visceral impact of the movie and story.  But the movie-makers have done a clever thing: they give us what we want, by holding back on some of the training shots, only hinting at the determination of some of the other contestants to win, so that when we see them off their starting blocks at the start of the Games, and they go ALL out with their weapons to kill, you literally feel the horror of it vibrate through you.  I do not quake easily and yet there were instances where I had to look away because it just felt too real.

The big scenes we were all waiting for were there and allow me to warn you: have your tissues ready for Rue’s scene.  It even made the elderly gentleman sitting next to me cry.  And practice your salute, half the audience who knew what to to look for did it back to the screen when it happened.  It was incredible.  I realise this sounds crazy, but there you go.  Audience participation is a bit of a thing here!

The action sequences are well done, as is the developing relationship between Peeta and Katniss.  I never once doubted who they were supposed to be.  The secondary characters and support cast are given great on-screen time.  Haymitch starts off as this drunken sot and yet, by the end of the movie you are 100% on his side as he hustles sponsors to send items into the Games to help Katniss and Peeta.

Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy

I can wax lyrical all day, I genuinely can.  I’m very much looking forward to see what they do for films 2 and 3 as the world, the politics, the seeds of the rebellion have been planted and we have our Mockingjay.  In the meantime, I’m planning to watch it again this Sunday, proudly wearing my mockingjay pin.

I leave you with this:

Down with the Capitol.

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