On the 23rd of March the world will be watching and what they'll be watching is 'The Hunger Games', a chilling look at a post-apocalyptic future that satirises our current love of reality television and decreasing sensitivity to violent images in society. Fronted by a trio of young, hot talent and featuring plenty of gruesome action and more than one weepy moment, it's the sort of intelligent blockbuster the world has been waiting for.
For the uninitiated, 'The Hunger Games' is the latest ‘young adult’ literary sensation to be adapted for the big screen following multimillion book sales worldwide and a fan base as avid as the ‘Twihards’. The story takes place in a dystopian future where North America has been divided into twelve districts which are governed by the Capitol in District 1. Every year each district must send two tributes (one girl and one boy) into The Hunger Games, a televised fight-to-the-death where only one is allowed to make it out alive.
District 12’s best hope lies in their female tribute, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). She is an athletic hunter with a penchant for rebellious behaviour, a quality that will later see her play an unexpected role in the revolution. Of course the trilogy didn’t gain its levels of popularity because of its wonderful satire on society’s ambivalence towards violence in the media or due to its exploration of the fascist state, oh no. Enter Gale ('Thor'’s brother Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the two boys fighting their own games for Katniss’ heart. Unluckily for Peeta, he’s also the male tribute for District 12 and will have to compete against Katniss in the real Games.
The film is a success, both as an adaptation and as a stand-alone work. The aesthetic is impressive - from the drab world of District 12 to the opulence and exaggeration of District 1, the film provides constant visual guidance. In some ways the symbolism is maybe a little too obvious but the film is aiming for broad spectrum appeal so we can forgive it that. Most visually interesting is District 1 itself - it is a pinnacle of futuristic design and extravagance that lacks any authenticity or human warmth. The people are cartoon characters of candy coloured hair, unique beards and elaborate eyelashes.
The falsehood of it all emphasises the wealth that District 1 enjoys that others don’t, but also highlights the spectacle of it all. The Hunger Games is entertainment for them, it’s all about the show. It is this underlying injustice and heartlessness that lends the film a constant tone of uneasiness and threat; the brutality of The Hunger Games is realised through far more than the killings that take place in the arena. It is intelligent filmmaking that sometimes relies a little too heavily on the visual narrative but is saved by a deftness of touch that manifests itself in smaller, more subtle moments.
Jennifer Lawrence excels as Katniss, a role that is multifaceted and physically demanding. She is a master of conveying emotion through her eyes and she captures the conflicting aspects of Katniss’ nature perfectly, from the cold will to survive to her affection and love for the vulnerable. Her eyes truly become the windows to Katniss’ soul and the machinations of her mind.
Katniss is an especially complex character and Lawrence moves between every emotion with such ease, making her performance magnetic. She anchors the film and the Games in reality when they could so easily slip into fantasy and become less believable. Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks also impress as the mentors of the District 12 tributes, especially Banks who has a face full of heavy make-up and some ridiculous outifts to contend with - Capitol couture, naturally.
In the post-awards season drought this film is the perfect segue between high drama and the high action blockbusters hitting the screens over the summer. It is the right balance of brains and brawn – visually stimulating yet thought-provoking and not easily forgettable. The film’s strengths are its subtleties - the ambiguity of Katniss’ feelings for Peeta, the hint of the true intentions of the President, the justification for sending 23 young people to a horrific death each year.
Yes, a lot of people will see it because a) there’s something about it that seems akin to ‘Twilight’ and b) it has action scenes…but scratch the surface and there is plenty to contemplate here, it is a text ripe for discussion. Even as someone who has read the books, I cannot wait for the second film and to find out how the story progresses.
'The Hunger Games' is out in UK cinemas on 23 March '12. American Express hosted the film's European premiere at The O2 in London.