With Hollywood putting out more and more mediocre-to-okay literary adaptations it’s understandable to be wary of The Hunger Games.
But to turn a phrase from the film itself, the odds are in your favour with this one.
‘So it’s basically Battle Royale?’ is what you’ll hear when you explain the Hunger Games to a person unfamiliar with the source material, myself included. The comparison to the late Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale is inevitable, as both feature teenagers killing each other in a dystopian society. That’s where the similarities end though. While Battle Royale is arguably about the loss of innocence and the violence of high school dynamics, The Hunger Games is about politics, plain and simple.
12 districts of Panem rebelled against the Capitol, only to be quelled in the end. As punishment for their rebellion, every year the districts are required to give up one boy and one girl from the ages of12 and 18 to compete to in the Hunger Games: A fight to the death in a large outdoor arena broadcast across all the territories of Panem. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a resident of District 12, volunteers to take the place of her sister Prim and participate in her place. Together with District 12’s other representative, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), they quickly learn that survival isn’t the only game that is played.
More than anything, thestrength of The Hunger Games lies not in the action, but in the politics. From a nation-wide level to personal politics, everyone is playing an angle. The first two thirds of the movie are devoted to showing us that the Hunger Games aren’t won with sheer brute strength or skill: charisma, showmanship and understanding your audience are equally effective tools at your disposal. On a wider level, the machinations of the government to keep the districts occupied and oppressed give us the reason why these games are enacted every year.
The Hunger Games is like watching a behind the scenes video to your favourite reality show. If that show involved lots and lots of killing. It’s fascinating to see how each of the contestants play to their strengths, even going so far as (at least from where I was sitting) to fabricate personas and storylines. It’s even more interesting to see how their mentors and fashion designers help their protégés deal with the game. And above them all, we have the team that manages the production of the coverage, run, of course, by an oprresive government. It’s all intrigue and subterfuge and it’s very, very enjoyable.
Part of the reason why this is so enjoyable even though we haven’t gotten to the games themselves, the actors are so damn interesting to watch. The adults (Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz and the always awesome Stanley Tucci) all give sterling performances. Special mention has to be given to the lead kids though, as Jennifer Lawrence gives the best reluctant gladiator performance since Russel Crowe. Josh Hutcherson, who has been awesome since Little Manhattan, plays a great reluctant showman.
Once we get to the games themselves however, the film loses steam. You’re supposed to feel something when these kids die, form alliances, actually play the game but I didn’t. I suppose in the spirit of world building, character was sacrificed. It’s a decision I understand and applaud. It’s more the political dynamics rather than the personal interactions that got me invested in the story, and you need wider view for that to happen, to see cause and effect. When things suddenly become personal, it stalls because you invested in the whole stage rather a specific player on it.
It’s the same as liking an entire great album rather than a select song. When you hear it played alone, it loses its impact-it becomes something easily ignored. I suppose this is where the format of the books come into play, providing the necessary backstory and hooks to get us invested, but tough shit, this is a film. What’s great though, is that there’s a promise that the following movies in the trilogy promise to be ALL politics, intrigue and subterfuge now that the lacklustre games are done with.
The Hunger Games is a great start to a promising franchise. It’s not an instant classic, but it is a good enough movie that you won’t regret watching.
PARA SA MGA TAMAD MAGBASA:
While the actual Hunger Games themselves were lackluster, everything else was awesome. The odds are in your favor for a good time at the cinematheque!