Following a rebellion 75 years before, the authorities decreed that each ‘district’ offer up a boy and a girl between 12 and 18 as a tribute to peace and prosperity to compete in a televised battle for survival known as The Hunger Games.
Our introduction into this troubled world is through the eyes of the hippy-named District 12 tribute Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers herself for the games to protect younger sister Prim. Katniss is immediately transported from a world of hardship and destitution, living on the breadline and hunting deer in the forest for food, to the brightly coloured land of plenty that is the central city: Capitol.
The contrast between the two settings is emphasised by the garish and fluorescent clothing worn by those in the Capitol, who immediately see Katniss and the other tributes as celebrities.
Those of you thinking the story sounds familiar, chances are you may have heard of or seen the 2000 film Battle Royale – a Japanese film which centres around a group of ninth grade students forced to fight to the death. While it was something of a television phenomenon in the world of Royale, it is the centre of everyone’s lives in The Hunger Games.
The comparisons to the Twilight saga are founded by the central love triangle, between Katniss, life-long friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) – who she is forced to leave behind – and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). There’s not much to this through this film though, with Katniss not showing any affection to Peeta despite his longing and no hint of more-than-friends in her introduction with Gale. Later Katniss plays up to the hints of love between her and Peeta for the watching public, but there is no real attraction.
In all Katniss comes off as driven and focused, showing very little emotion to anyone but her family. Lawrence is generally very stiff and has no natural chemistry with the rest of the adult cast, which is either a reflection on her acting prowess or her commitment to the character’s general lack of empathy. To compensate, one stand-out scene towards the finale floods the screen with emotion, and Lawrence earns her top-of-the-bill status.
The supporting cast vary. Hollywood middle-weight Woody Harrelson (Cheers, 2012, Zombieland) as Haymitch Abernathy, a previous winner of the games, initially makes a forgettable impression, but becomes more and more likeable. Mentor Cinna, played by none other than rock legend Lenny Kravitz, seems underused for what is such a crucial part of building Katniss’ confidence during training ahead of the games and the heavily made-up Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) is little more than a piercing voice.
The film is based on the first of a trilogy of books, and despite the faithful reproduction the background feels a little rushed with only a minute-long propaganda video (barely) explaining the reasoning for killing 23 children a year.
Director Gary Ross also helped shape the story as screenwriter, where he made his name with films like Big and Seabicuit, alongside original author Suzanne Collins. The care and attention of the pair shows through here, with the spirit of the source material translated on screen smoothly and all the doors left open to bring in an almost inevitable sequel.
There’s plenty that’s done well here, but the plot as a whole plays out predictably and with toned-down action scenes and ‘magic’ healing gel to fix stab wounds, some of the point of the story is lost. Despite the constant danger you rarely fear for the characters, but you do root for them, making it a story suited to its watershed-friendly certificate.
James Michael Parry