The Hunger Games
Given the depths reality TV has sunk to in recent years, it’s not all that implausible we could see a similar spectacle The Hunger Games, where teenager Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) must face off against her near neighbour Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and 22 others her age in a bloody television spectacle where only one person will come out alive.
The Hunger Games, as they are called, are a gruesome event the government of a dystopian America carries out in order to punish ‘districts’ that have rebelled. A lottery or volunteers decides which two youngsters from each district will fight to the death in front of the watching country.
Perhaps many would take Katniss’s situation over involvement in anything that involves marrying a Kardashian, yet this world – where the masses live in 1930s style poverty while a select few indulge in undreamed of decadence – makes for one which might just top the cruelty of our own.
Adapted from writer Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, The Hunger Games (2008-2010) asks the question of what good people do in a situation that’s rigged to make them evil, what can constitute love, respect, decency and humanity. The games’ motto “May the odds ever be in your favour”, rather twists the knife.
One can’t really review the film without mentioning the Japanese thriller Battle Royale, which saw a lottery select a class to fight it out to the death on TV, in a similar landscape, with a similar love story at its centre. The stories are so close that The Hunger Games faced being a pale imitation of its oriental cousin.
However, their similarities don’t matter for two reasons: firstly, it’s doubtful that many of those who are going to fill up multiplexes to watch a blockbuster are going to have seen the Japanese film; secondly, you can take the same conceit and use it to make subtly different points.
The Hunger Games does it by focusing more on the whole society involved in the ghastly spectacle and the reality TV element of what the teens have to do. They must gain sponsors, make themselves pretty and tug on the heartstrings of baying hordes and corrupt politicians alike. The nature of the game is such that those playing may not have any control at all and must manipulate their audience and producers as much as the other competitors.
Gary Ross’s direction and the performances across the film are other elements which allow it to rise above the fact cinema-goers may already be familiar with the ideas explored. In particular, Lawrence and Woody Harrelson deliver exceptional turns as Katniss and Haymitch, her mentor.
The problem, quite common amongst books for older children that have made it on to the screen, is that violence, which is fine on the page, is a lot more harrowing in the cinema. As such in order to reach its target audience some of the rough edges that would have really made it work as a truly stylish and troubling thriller have been rounded off, yet there are few scenes where younger children may struggle.
The Hunger Games may not be a startlingly original piece of cinema but it pushes the right buttons, is well directed and acted and does something interesting with its central conceit, bringing a story typically told to older audiences to a broad one. However, one hopes that it doesn’t give ITV2 any ideas, unless it involves Kardashians.