As Primrose Everdeen (Willow Shields) struggles to sleep knowing her name maybe called to participate in this years horrific Hunger Games, her elder sister sings to ease her worries but leaves shortly after to meet her friend on the outskirts of their district but not before scowling at her pet cat and threatens to cook her if she doesn’t behave. In the first ten minutes, a character tone is established. One who has a warm yet frosty nature. Someone who dislikes authority and equally dreams of a better life. This is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and this is her story of belief, love and survival.
In a dystopian future, where most of North America has been destroyed due to an undisclosed catastrophic event, a new nation called Panem is created with the Capitol in the centre and thirteen districts surrounding it. An unsuccessful rebellion from the thirteenth district against the authoritarian Capitol was stopped which led to their ultimate annihilation. As punishment, and a reminder that any uprising will be dangerously challenged, the Hunger Games were created where one boy and one girl, aged between 12 and 18, from each district are selected as ‘tributes’ in an annual lottery to participate and fight till there is only one remaining. Primrose’s fears are proven right as her name for the 74th games is called out however Katniss volunteers to take her place thus saving her sister’s life. The boy tribute is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son with great skill in camouflage and throwing large objects over great distances. Katniss and Peeta are taken on a train away from the poor mining district to the utopian, futuristic looking Capitol where they meet other tributes, take basic survival training, get fed with delicious food and are paraded in front of an audience who will be watching their every move. Helping them along the way is mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), a winner from their same district at the 50th games and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) a PR guru who helps the tributes make a good impression to sponsors who may in-turn help them during the games. Overseeing the entire process is Gamesmaker Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) who wants to impress the Capitol’s president (Donal Sutherland) and ensure everything goes to plan. But of course it doesn’t. In the first few minutes of the games, taking place in an artificial, genetical enhanced forest, we see 11 of the 24 tributes die instantly when trying to run for provisions and weapons. A secret alliance between some of the tributes form to kill Katniss who was previously given the best odds to survive the games. They use Peeta to track Kayniss’ movement as she ran the opposite way from the bloodbath without any provisions until a turn of events allow her to use a bow and set of arrows – a weapon she’s been using to hunt animals every since she was a child and it stays with her until the very end.
A wonderful adaptation of Suzanne Collins novel that plays out well on screen as it does in the novels. It contains themes such as oppression, power, survival, poverty, a dystopian future and something that defines our modern times – reality television. It blends the best parts of Japanese author Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale and Stephen King’s The Running Man.
The cinematography is brilliant. Just purely brilliant. The Capitol has an imperious, magniloquent nature. Even from the very beginning Crane and television presenter Caesar Flikerman (Stanley Tucci) discuss how this years Hunger Games would be different in a well lit stage, with exuberant beards, coloured hair and gluttonous behaviour. It then cuts to an old, overshadowing, poorly constructed home where it’s occupants live on scraps of food and dress with torn clothes. All the Districts are shown to be simple in structure and based on trade however they’re also deprived of any modern technology and have an unsettling, impoverished environment – there is no hope, only dreams. It’s a sharp contrast that plays through out the entire film. Then there’s the forest – a battle field that has cameras built into every other tree branch, contains genetically modified insects and animals, and much like savage predators – the tributes hunt each other to the death. It is truly the survival of the fittest in the most natural of elements.
The brutality of the games is brilliant conceived as without it, the film would’ve suffered. Director Gary Ross uses fast editing, masses of assumption techniques and sound effects to make you think teenagers can be just as cruel as adults when it comes to stabbing, slicing, bone crushing violent. It is uncomfortable to watch. Especially when the younger tributes die and the adults enjoy this as entertainment.
The chemistry, or rather lack of, between the tributes is also compelling. The alliance to track Katniss shows she’s clearly a tribute that can’t easily be killed due to her resourceful nature. This is mainly due to the gravitas created by Lawrence whom gives Katniss an icy dexterity, melting only when she wants to and at times to act in front of the camera to earn support of the sponsors. Lawrence is amazing to watch. Her screen presence even dwarfs that of Tucci’s and Sutherland’s – which is almost blasphemous to write. Even the romance between Katniss and Peeta is overshadowed because you’re paying too much attention to Lawrence.
It can’t be helped that this is yet another novel adaptation from the ‘young adult’ category however it must be congratulated that it discusses the nature of big brother, the different societies and class structure – not vampires, witches and high school dilemmas. But if the core audience again are teens then what is wrong in directing them to wonderful classics such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four as well as Battle Royale and The Running Man – all of which have been adapted for the big screen? Themes dealt in these amazing books are later addressed in the other parts of the Hunger Games trilogy so as a story it doesn’t reveal anything new – but as a film, it does splendidly well though you might question if it deserves a second viewing. On first viewing however, do so for Lawrence’s stunning performance, its special effects and to celebrate for what is perhaps an Animal Farm of our time. Our heroine Katniss will take you on a revealing journey of human nature and show that, to paraphrase one of Orwell’s famous quotes, all tributes are equal but some tributes are more equal than others.
Reviewed by Vaskar S. Kayastha