Franchise Alert!

DIR: Gary Ross • WRI: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray • PRO: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik • DOP: Tom Stern • ED: Stephen Mirrione, Juliette Welfling • DES: Philip Messina • Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks

Fans of Suzanne Collins’ hugely successfully series of books have been on the defensive since this adaptation is being referred to as ‘Twilight meets The Running Man‘, whereas those previously unaware of the tween-lit hits are seeing this movie as little more than “Battle Royale with all the violence taken out, and replaced with a love story.” As it turns out, both descriptions are vaguely accurate, but in no way is that necessarily a bad thing.

Katniss Everdeen (a perfectly cast Jennifer Lawrence) is living in the coal-mining town of District 12, one of the poorer districts of a Panem, a futuristic, post-war America. In order to keep the population in line, every year the President (Donald Sutherland) organises The Hunger Games, where a boy and girl aged between 12 and 18 are picked at random from each district, and all 24 teens are placed into a huge arena to hunt and kill each other on live television. When her frail younger sister is picked, Katniss volunteers to take her place, and heads off to the Capital with fellow District 12-er Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).

From here Katniss and Peeta are primped and prepped for The Hunger Games by a host of well-known actors (Woody Harrelson, Wes Bentley, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz and a scene-stealing Elizabeth Banks), all of whom help bring weight or levity when and where required. Then it’s off to the arena, and all hell breaks loose…

The worrying 12A rating had some folk concerned that the pretty-darn-violent novel would be toned down some, and while it never goes for OTT gore, there are more than enough stabbings, bludgeonings, poisonings, impalings and neck-snappings to put those worries to rest. Intensity is the name of the game here, with director Gary Ross going all Paul Greengrass with shaky, handheld camera-work getting up close and personal with every fight scene. And when the film slows down to take an emotional beat, those are perfectly handled too, with one scene in particular that should have the entire audience wiping away a tear.

As an adaptation, the movie is a massive success, thanks its fantastic cast and amazing production design, as well as Oscar®-worthy make-up and costume designs, and while there are some omissions and alterations from the novel, it’s nothing that will ruin the experience. But as a stand-alone movie, it does have some minor problems. While it doesn’t feel as long as its epic 142-minute running time, it is a movie that has A LOT of story to tell, which can sometimes bog the tempo down a little bit. Also, side-lining someone as talented as Toby Jones and someone as handsome as Liam Hemsworth into virtually non-existing roles seems like something of a waste. But these are minor niggles when compared to the triumph of setting up such a complicated universe so well, and leaving the audience wanting more, which they’ll get when sequel Catching Fire hits cinemas in November 2013.

Rory Cashin

Rated 12A (see IFCO website for details)
The Hunger Games is released on 23rd March 2012


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