The Hunger Games (2012) – movie review

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Movie review by Neil Sadler

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley, Donald Sutherland
Director: Gary Ross

When the odds were so much in it’s favour, it is a shame that this film can only disappoint.

THE HUNGER GAMES is based on the first of Suzanne Collins extremely successful teen novels about Katniss Everdeen and her battle to survive in the futuristic post civil war country of Panem. The books have been a phenomenon similar to TWILIGHT in that they have a female protagonist torn between two men. The 2 franchises differ greatly mainly due to the fact that the HUNGER GAMES books are pretty good. Katniss is a strong, rounded character who is initially unlikeable but rarely unrealistic and the story rattles along and has genuine tension and passion.

A film was inevitable, given the success of both the books and other similar franchises but the problem the film would always have was that despite being written for teens, the main crux of the books, particularly the first one, is The Hunger Games themselves.

The Hunger Games in the book are a violent survival game played in front of cameras for the excitement of the audience – a bit like THE RUNNING MAN – but the contestants are aged between 12 and 18. No witty Arnie one liners but nevertheless in the book, this is still a tense fight to the death. How then do you portray this in a way that keeps the energy and emotion but doesn’t prevent the films target audience from being too young to go and see it. Well, not like this.

Gary Ross chooses to totally emasculate any of the violence by a system of blurring and pulling away whenever there is likely to be any violence. I am not a fan of violence for its own sake, but there are times when it tells a story, not by glorifying it, but by showing it as a moral act as it often is here. By completely shying away from it, the story loses its bite and the audience misses out on some of the payback it richly deserves.

It would be unfair to judge the film totally on this area though. For most of the early part of the film, it tells its story well and Jennifer Lawrence is far better than the film deserves. You invest in her almost immediately for despite her almost constant sullenness she embodies the noble rebellion of Katniss.

A string of great acting performances from the likes of Woody Harrelson and Stanley Tucci just about save the film from drowning in PG banality and I was left wanting the sequel but there is little here to justify the 2 1/2 hours let alone the box office gold it has struck.

That said, it is many times more enjoyable than the awful TWILIGHT films/books and Katniss is far more admirable than drippy Bella.

Maybe I expected too much from THE HUNGER GAMES but in the end, the odds of greatness were pretty even.

3 out of 6 stars