…You’ll more than likely get rather irritated by that quote aforementioned in the title of this review. They say it enough bloody times. But that doesn’t do anything to hurt the film, just rather a slight warning. Anyway, let’s get down to it. The Hunger Games had a showing at the Alderney Cinema last night, its last one (probably its last showing in a cinema anywhere in the world) and is out on DVD come the beginning of September. I seemed to have actively avoided this film right until now; I could have very easily have seen it at the cinema upon its release, and then again when it was showing at the Student Cinema. But I didn’t. It is largely because I didn’t want to see it when everybody was absolutely raving about it, as people seem to do these days with a teen franchise based on a series of books. Once that buzz had died down, the negative backlash (again, as so happens with properties like this) started to arise (round about the time that it was on at the Student Cinema) which again put me off seeing it. Now seemed a perfect time to see the ‘phenomenon’ with a fresh perspective on the film. I haven’t read the books, don’t intend to, but as a film-lover, it just seems to be one of those films that you must have seen.  

Based on Suzanne Collin’s hugely successful trilogy of books, The Hunger Games concerns an education reform in Japan which pits school children against each other in a fight to the de…. oh wait hang on, wrong film, let me start over. The Hunger Games is set in a future America, now called Panem; an America with has become a dystopian society. Following an apocalyptic event the country was split into the rich and wealthy Capitol and 12 smaller, poorer Districts, in which the inhabitants live in poverty and are ruled with an iron fist. In order to maintain a grasp on the Districts, every year the Capitol selects a boy and girl from each District to fight against each other in a battle to the death, called The Hunger Games. There can only be one winner. 16 year-old Katniss Everdeen (A mighty fine Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers herself as tribute to protect her younger sister from the horror of the games. She soon embarks upon a training course for the games, but must rely on her own sharp survival skills if she is ever to make it through the games as champion.

The Battle Royale joke was perhaps a bit unfair (although I would definitely check B.R. out if you can, it’s rather awesome), as while the concept is similar in some rather obvious ways, there is certainly enough to separate the two (such as the fact that B.R. gets to the killing in 5 minutes, as opposed to The Hunger Games good hour). However, this first hour is devoted to establishing the world of this inventive concept. Again, a dystopian future fueled around a social divide is not particularly original (we’ll have more of it next year with Neil Blomkamp’s Elysium)But the world here is entirely engrossing, thanks in large part to the production design and the committed nature of the cast. Director Gary Ross has always had a keen visual eye, from the retro 50’s setting of Pleasantville to the 40’s world of Seabiscuit, and it is no different here. He creates an aesthetically captivating world, particularly once the proceedings reaches the Capitol. The garish costumes and elaborate nature of the architecture create the sense of greed that the citizens of the Capitol revel in while the inhabitants of the Districts starve. Unfortunately the script doesn’t develop as an effective a social satire as the production design may allude to, but Ross effectively establishes the hierarchy and style of this world. However, he isn’t that good at showing this world on camera. 

Ross’ camerawork seems rather intoxicated at times. I can understand the use of shaky cam in the more exciting adrenalin-fueled scenes. And yes, it does work well to install tension and panic into the action scenes once the games begin, but quite why it was needed in the opening half, or even in more intimate moments baffles me. The focus at times was all over the place, the editing only added to the in-coherency. It was particularly annoying during the selection scene, when Elizabeth Banks picks out the contestants. It jumps from a close-up, to a profile shot, to a high angle wide shot rather suddenly, and the camera isn’t even static at these moments. It was un-needed, the tension was already there within the context; more subtle, dread inducing long shots perhaps would have been much more effective in this case. Thankfully it does work better for the actual games, yet even here you have the sense that Ross only shot the action in such a way to get away with a teen friendly 12-A certificate. The action is brutal at times, yet the games themselves feel too diluted to truly be gut-punching. And at times the film feels like it is trying to be a big budget film, but is let down by some rather awful CGI and green-screen shots (namely the fire costumes and the dogs). Despite all this, why the hell did I still get so wrapped up in it?

I can answer that question quite easily; because of the cast. Everyone in the cast is completely devoted to making sure they can sell the concept and structure of this world. Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks particularly stand-out as the most elaborate figures of the Capitol, embracing the camp goofiness of their roles. Donald Sutherland is on sleeper mode, but he does create an intriguing sense of mystery around his character, that is sure to be expanded in the sequels. Josh Hutcherson makes for a very likable and sympathetic male lead as Peeta, whose unrequited love for Katniss drives his determination. Yet, there is no denying that this film belongs to Jennifer Lawrence. Her Katniss is a tough, resourceful and driven action heroine, anchoring the film and its world in a very believable and emotional footing. Her reactions are purely human and emotional and most of the tension comes from seeing Katniss put through the trials of the games. I was fully invested in her character, and Lawrence is the reason for that. It is a powerful performance that grabs your attention, and doesn’t drop it until the credits begin to roll.  

Ross is not returning for the sequel, Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence has that task), and I think that is wise. He was effectively established this world, got a brilliant cast in place, and now its time for a director with an equal sense of visual flair to take the reigns. I do worry for the sequel, as it has set itself up for that terrible teenage franchise cliché; the love triangle. It is surely setting itself up to be dubbed the new Twilight by introducing such an element. Again, I haven’t read the source material, so they may indeed have found a way to flip that cliché on its head, as this world is a rather brutal world, anything could happen. I personally would like to see an expansion of the world’s social commentary, as the design of the Capitol and its inhabitants could itself to a Paul Verhoeven-style satire on social order; garishly colourful, and perhaps a bit more violent. We shall see, the forthcoming sequel does intrigue me, but it is going to have to do something special to run away from the label of being Twilight‘s successor. May the odds be ever in your favour, Catching Fire. 

3/5- An aesthetically interesting world is presented through annoying camerawork and shoddy editing. But the concept is undeniably intriguing and the cast completely sell it; Jennifer Lawrence absolutely nails the bull’s eye.

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