The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games

**1/2

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

The latest mega-franchise-in-waiting based on a popular series of young adult novels, The Hunger Games arrives with plenty of expectation. Adapting the first of Suzanne Collins’ three best-selling books, this dystopian sci-fi is very likely to become the new teen phenomenon, even if the result is – unfortunately – rather flat and unremarkable. Nowhere near as ‘smart’ or ‘dark’ as some early reviews have suggested, it might boast the same DNA as The Running Man (contestants forced to battle others for a futuristic game show), Battle Royale (kids killing each other in the wilderness) and, inevitably, Twilight (centring on a teenage female heroine, aimed at the same demographic), but it’s seldom exciting or memorable.

In a post-apocalyptic future, North America – now known as Panem – is ruled as a totalitarian society. Every year, each of the remaining 12 districts is forced to randomly select a teenage boy and girl to compete in the annual Hunger Games, a televised event where the 24 contestants are placed in a forest arena to fight until only one remains. In the underprivileged District 12, 16-year-old Katniss Everrdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is horrified when her younger sister is chosen, and volunteers herself as a replacement…

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Despite spending an ample amount of time trying to sell us on the overall premise, this world rarely feels convincing. The dialogue is often clunky and not nearly as sharp as it needs to be, the futuristic fashions are more distracting than credible (see Wes Bentley’s silly designer facial hair) and, worst of all, the exact reasons for the Games are never satisfyingly explained. At two and a quarter hours it feels long too, particularly given that nothing is really said. Admittedly, there are stabs at certain satirical subjects (the divide between rich and poor, society reverting to gladiatorial combat, the dangers of a totalitarian government), but it’s all surface-level stuff.

While filmmaker Gary Ross was able to imbue both Pleasantville and Seabiscuit with nice visuals, here the direction is more workmanlike. Even though the novel saddles him with a fairly predictable outcome (you probably have a good idea who wins the Games), Ross isn’t able to instil any danger or tension to the combat scenes, while the use of shaky cam only serves to muddy what is going on half the time. Though the finale is also somewhat anti-climactic, what niggles more is the plot holes which later become apparent. For example, if giant CGI dogs can be created out of nothing, why isn’t the same technology used to create food?

The romantic aspect stumbles too, as it’s never clear how Katniss feels about either her pal from home Gale (Liam Hemsworth) or her fellow contestant Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). With the latter, is this just for the cameras? Who knows. Already, young Jennifer Lawrence (looking more and more like a prettier Renee Zellweger) has amassed plenty of praise for her central performance, but her character isn’t particularly likeable or interesting.

Elsewhere, there’s an eclectic mix of supporting faces, ranging from classy bit-parts (Donald Sutherland) to talented performers overshadowed by their naff wardrobes (Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks) to, well, Lenny Kravitz. Stanley Tucci though, while burdened with plenty of blatant exposition (“for those of you who don’t know what a Tracker Jacker is…”), is an utter delight as the blue-haired show host.

Although certain to be the next franchise which teens go mad for, The Hunger Games isn’t particularly exciting, memorable or involving. Already, it’s hard to see what all the hype is about.

Reviewed on: 21 Mar 2012
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The Hunger Games packshot
Set in a dystopian future, a young boy and girl must fight to the death on live television.
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Read more The Hunger Games reviews:

Amber Wilkinson ****1/2
Sophie Monks Kaufman ****

Director: Gary Ross

Writer: Gary Ross, Billy Ray, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, Alexander Ludwig, Isabelle Fuhrman, Stanley Tucci, Leven Rambin, Donald Sutherland, Lenny Kravitz, Amandla Stenberg, Willow Shields, Wes Bentley

Year: 2012

Runtime: 142 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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