Access Reel Review – The Hunger Games

Access Reel Review – The Hunger Games

With advance ticket sales breaking the one-day record originally held by The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, The Hunger Games is predicted to be the next teen cinema sensation. Sexy young cast? Check. Kick-arse leading lady? Check. Love triangle? Check. All the ingredients are there with a healthy sprinkling of hype… but does the flick live up to expectations?

I became aware of The Hunger Games last year when every 13-year-old girl I laid eyes on was clutching the paperback by Suzanne Collins (who also co-wrote the screenplay).

Still scarred from the heinous crime of Twilight being hailed as a modern ‘cultural phenomenon’(I mean seriously; can the 21st century please be remembered for something a little more worthy?) I curled my lip and snorted at every book store window showcasing the novel.

It was only when I was faced with an 8 hour plane flight with no in-flight entertainment that I succumbed to reading the copy a friend had forced me to take.

I read it in one sitting.

Sure it was meant for readers ten years younger than me, but despite the teen element it was actually a kinda cool book with a great premise (shame Collins didn’t show a bit more daring and write the novel for adults).

The Hunger Games is set in the futuristic dystopia that is North America.  As a means of mass control, the Capitol selects a male and female youth from each district to be ‘tributes’, representing their community in televised games to the death.

Our hero, Katniss (don’t confuse the ‘n’ for a ‘p’) volunteers to take the place of her 12-year-old sister who is drawn from the ballot. She leaves behind her family, the spunky Gale (who is clearly going to offer some romantic involvement if the next two films in the trilogy get made) to join her fellow male tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) in the ‘games’.

It was no surprised when Collins’ name flashed on screen as a co-screenwriter. This flick is very close to the book. Maybe a little too close…?

Actors sport obviously dyed hair to look more like their novel counterparts – make up department: dye it well or not at all thank you very much!

Though book fans will no doubt be pleased with the adaptation, it does result in a super long exposition; it’s not until after a solid hour of viewing that we finally get to the good stuff.

Despite the violent premise, the studio works hard to stay well within the limits of the PG-13 American rating (M in Australia). Violence is inferred rather than explicitly shown and fight scenes are shot tight and fast resulting in us actually seeing very little (and getting slightly motion-sick).

The film’s gritty portrayal of the poor, tightly controlled districts is realistic and moving. It is a believable prediction of how our western society might operate if it were to face our demise.  

This is in stark contrast to the Capitol which is rich, excessive and culturally wacky with the futuristic fashion looking like something designed during an acid trip in the 70s. In a film setting, this doesn’t quite work.  The neon-coloured hair and the 80’s glam-rock costumes of the residents of the Capitol look a little laughable, particularly after the gritty squalor of the outlying districts.

The cast is a weird one, but successful none-the-less. The main youth contingent is made up of young boys and girls who were kid stars that, having suddenly gone through puberty, are forced to attempt the transition to adult actor. Having a grown up Josh Hutcherson as Peeta is just bizarre – last I saw him he was playing a 12-year old boy in Bridge to Terabithia.

The rest of the cast is full of faces that make you go “I know that actor…what are they from again?” There is even a mostly convincing appearance by musician Lenny Kravitz! It’s clear the best-selling status of the book and the potential blockbuster trilogy the film could spawn prompted semi-prominent actors to sign on the dotted line in the hopes of hitting some big bucks.

This does result in a pretty strong leading cast. Nearly every lead character is believable even through the circus-style hair and makeup. It is disappointing they didn’t put the same effort into the minor roles, namely the other tributes.

Katniss and Peeta’s main rivals in the games are the highly trained, cold-blooded tributes from the richer districts led by the nasty Cato (Alexander Ludwig, the blonde boy from The Seeker).  Their characters play out like something from the Disney channel with cheesy evil laughs and bitchy dialogue.

Yet the climactic scene involving Cato is actually well acted, suggesting this was perhaps a Direction issue not casting – when it comes to the crunch Ludwig delivers the goods…shame about the other 90minutes of tripe.

Despite it’s flaws, The Hunger Games has something about it the captures you. It’s not awesome and it’s not exactly original (dystopian setting? games to the death? We’ve seen it all before), but you can’t help but really enjoy yourself watching this film. The fluffy approach to the violence is admirable, but a little disappointing for adult viewers. Anyone hanging for a real ‘fight to the death’ flick should stick with the brutal Japanese film Battle Royale (2000) as The Hunger Games will do little to satisfy their blood lust.

Some of the special effects are very ho-hum, and the screenplay/editing got a little lazy towards the end resulting in some really jarring transitions between the games arena and the TV commentators.

They also fail to capitalize on the televisation of the games which could have made for some great creative cinematography highlighting the ever-important modern social issue of ‘big brother’ surveillance and the power of the media – Majorly missed opportunity there guys!

All in all The Hunger Games is a fun bit of escapism that you can take your kids to without too much concern. Yes it unashamedly screams “insert big bucks here please” but there are worse things out there making millions.

Now we just have to wait and see if it stocks up the bank enough to make the 2nd and 3rd films….

 

The Hunger Games is rated 3.5 out of 5

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