thu 02/10/2014

The Hunger Games | Film reviews, news & interviews

The Hunger Games

Compelling adaptation of Suzanne Collins's dystopian teen drama is emphatically not about young love

Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) attends the Reaping ceremony

Given the numerous and now pretty tiresome comparisons that pundits and punters alike have drawn between the Hunger Games trilogy and the inexorable Twilight saga, it’s worth taking a moment to imagine how the franchises’ respective heroines might get on if they actually met. One can’t imagine they’d see eye to eye on much.

The Hunger Games’  fiercely self-reliant Katniss Everdeen is a 16-year-old with the weight of a broken world on her stoical shoulders, fighting tooth and nail to protect her family from starvation and violent oppression. Twilight’s meek, passively dependent Bella Swan is a 16-year-old preoccupied solely with the question of which man she should devote her life to. In all likelihood, their meeting would end with Bella getting an arrow through the eye.

Her father dead, her mother lost in near-catatonic depression, Katniss – played here with earthy nuance by Jennifer Lawrence – has learned to hunt and barter to put food on her family’s table. It’s a challenging prospect in the dystopian surroundings of Panem, a country that was once North America but now consists of 12 districts ruled over by a despotic Capitol. The eponymous Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl from each district are randomly selected to compete in a battle to the death, televised in the style of a reality show. If you’re wondering where you’ve seen this premise before, try brash Japanese shocker Battle Royale or the blackly satirical Series 7: The Contenders. When her beloved younger sister Prim is selected for the Games at the none-too-reassuringly named Reaping ceremony, Katniss volunteers to take her place.

Katniss and Caesar (Stanley Tucci)Director Gary Ross (incongruously best known for the sugar-coated Seabiscuit) and his director of photography Tom Stern (Clint Eastwood’s regular DoP for the past decade) establish a shrewd visual contrast between the muted blues and greys of District 12, where Katniss leads a hand-to-mouth existence, and the garish neons of the television studio into which she’s later thrust. Each contestant is primped and styled for the cameras, expected to charm the crowd in a talk-show interview before being led to the slaughter. “It’s a very interesting mix this year,” muses host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci), a piece of pre-game analysis exemplifying the film’s dead-on portrayal of the dynamics of reality television. 

That said, there are political resonances that don’t survive the page-to-screen translation. One of author Suzanne Collins’s most potent and disturbingly plausible ideas is barely mentioned here – that of the “tesserae”, a system by which poorer citizens can choose to have their name entered into the Hunger Games ballot more times, thus increasing their chances of being picked, in exchange for extra food.

Katniss is a 16-year-old with the weight of a broken world on her stoical shoulders, fighting tooth and nail to protect her family

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