REVIEW: THE HUNGER GAMES. A FOUR STAR MOVIE WITH A FIVE STAR MESSAGE.

By on April 7th, 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

Talent: Gary Ross (Dir.), Suzanne Collins (Writer), Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Lenny Kravitz
Tagline: “The World will be watching”.
Worldwide box-office: $155,000,000 (25/03/12)

‘A perverse evolution of the X-Factor during which, as opposed to murdering classic songs, young hopefuls compete to murder each other, complete with exhaustive commentary, in-depth analysis and lurid live action replays’.

PLOT
In the not too distant future, a morally anaemic shadow of its former self, the United States is now a nightmarish vision of totalitarian terror known as Panem. After a brutal civil uprising the ruling classes live a life of decadence and excess amid the nauseating pastels of ‘the Capitol’.

Beyond ‘the Capitol’ in the 12 outlying districts of Panem, life is a stark and colourless existence of poverty and hardships. Each year a young man and woman from each of the 12 districts has the dubious honour of being chosen by lottery as ‘tribute’, whisked off to the Capitol to be preened and pampered, before taking part in a televised death match known as ‘The Hunger Games’.

A perverse evolution of the X-Factor during which, as opposed to murdering classic songs, young hopefuls compete to murder each other, complete with exhaustive commentary, in-depth analysis and lurid live action replays.

The Games serve as a reminder to the masses of the futility of rebellion and act as a penance on behalf of the districts for rebelling against the government, while providing for each of the ‘tributes’ an opportunity to escape the hopelessness of the districts for the fortune and glory of the Capitol.

Volunteering in place of her younger sister Primrose, a fearful but determined Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), must journey to the Capitol under the watchful eye of mentor and former Games victor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson).

As the Games draw nearer the two young tributes are left with the feeble hope that ‘the odds will be ever their favour’ and the stark reality that they may have to kill each other to survive. For there can be only one victor.

‘The Hunger Games is that rarest of films in which substance and talent combine in a story which is as moving as it is challenging’.

The Hunger Games (2012)

REVIEW
The Hunger Games is that rarest of films in which substance and talent combine in a story which is as moving as it is challenging. In a world where the default reaction to those around us is one of self-interest, Suzanne Collins’ novel dares to offer a contrary world view in which we are moved to recognize a desire essential to each of us: the desire to sacrifice ourselves for others.

This central theme of self-sacrifice which runs throughout the novel, faithfully adapted in Gary Ross’ film, challenges us to respond generously to this desire. The film asks the question: ‘If you were in this situation, what would you do? Would you volunteer yourself in the place of a loved one as Katniss does? Would you have the courage of your convictions and follow them through to whatever end?

The film’s effectiveness in conveying clearly its uncompromising message and its eagerness in asking difficult questions is founded on Ross’ ability to allow the film’s form and content to complement each other, as opposed to having them compete for priority.

The method serves the message, rather than drowning it out, and the message is this: There can be no glory without self-sacrifice, no victory without obedience. An exhilarating if unsettling thought to be sure, from a film that exhilarates and unsettles like nothing else we’ve seen from the genre.

In contrast to the Harry Potter and Twilight films, The Hunger Games displays an appetite for more than mere entertainment or cheap thrills. Not satisfied with appeasing its target audience, the film aims to set a new standard in Young Adult fiction which offers a glimpse at the bigger picture. How often are we able to say that about a Hollywood movie that has been, undeniably, a critical and commercial smash?

In Katniss Everdeen we have a heroine who is actually heroic; not only in extraordinary circumstances but in the ordinary business of doing her duty towards her family, out of the love she has for them. Katniss’ willingness to sacrifice herself for those dear to her by volunteering for the Games in her sister’s place gives the film its focus and sets the tone for the events to follow. In this respect, the film’s convictions hang on the strength of its young lead’s performance and Jennifer Lawrence exceeds all expectations.

‘In contrast to the Harry Potter and Twilight films, The Hunger Games displays an appetite for more than mere entertainment or cheap thrills’.

The Hunger Games (2012)

Comparing her performance in The Hunger Games with the thrill of seeing World Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi play, director Gary Ross described Lawrence as “a once in a lifetime talent”. If The Hunger Games is remembered for one thing it will be the prodigious talent of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen, a true role model for the Young Adult genre now given a new lease of life.

The look and feel of the film was crucial in establishing the intensity of the narrative. Ross uses hand-held cameras exclusively; the action has an immediacy which gives us a sense of the drama of the Games, and allows us to empathise more readily with Katniss and the other tributes throughout.

Critics of the film have expressed issue with the over use of the hand-held camera which, despite giving the film its own distinct visual style, does at times distract from the more emotionally involving scenes.

The film has its flaws like any other but the immediacy of the action prevents us from detaching ourselves from the brutality which characterises the story, a jerky and nauseating reminder perhaps, that the violent reality of the Games cannot be divorced from the entertainment they provide.

It seems providential that The Hunger Games should have been released within touching distance of Easter. As Christians contemplate the drama of the Passion, united to Christ crucified, the similarities between the narrative of the first of The Hunger Games trilogy and that of the Easter Triduum are striking.

The character of Katniss Everdeen chooses to suffer in place of those she loves, as Christ does on Holy Thursday. The cost and the value of loving and willing sacrifice is centre stage throughout the Christian community as it should be during this holy season but also, surprisingly, it is centre stage in Hollywood and forefront in the minds of movie-goers everywhere.

‘Katniss Everdeen [is] a true role model for the Young Adult genre now given a new lease of life’.

VERDICT ★★★★☆
Striking a difficult balance between challenging its young audience and living up to the fan-fuelled expectation created by Suzanne Collins’ bestselling novel, without pandering to it, The Hunger Games reconnects Young Adult fiction in the wake of the Twilight phenomenon (a kind of fanged, hormonal hunger games in its own right) with the redemptive reality of self-sacrifice.

The Hunger Games (2012)

18 Responses to “REVIEW: THE HUNGER GAMES. A FOUR STAR MOVIE WITH A FIVE STAR MESSAGE.

  1. 1 Julian
    April 7th, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Glad it lived up to your expectations

  2. 2 Ronan
    April 7th, 2012 at 6:09 pm

    It certainly survived the hype surrounding it but I can’t say I had any expectations, not having read the books. I am sorely tempted to now though. What did you make of the film?

  3. 3 Julian
    April 8th, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Haven’t seen it it. Don’t really have money to go to the theaters these days

  4. 4 ruth
    April 9th, 2012 at 5:07 am

    Great review, Ronan! I love what you said about the moral message of the story, that’s why I like Katniss because she’s not self-serving. It’s nice to see a film with a female heroine who’s driven not by her attraction to a man the way the Twilight movies are focusing on. The redemptive quality is what I enjoy most about the book and the film actually did it justice.

    P.S. Hope you had a lovely Easter!

  5. 5 Ronan Wright
    April 9th, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I thought you would appreciate that aspect of the narrative Ruth. This is a real breath of fresh air for a genre that was beginning to look very tired and that was making me nauseous. Can’t wait for the second film and I may even read the books now. Happy Easter to you and Ivan!

  6. 6 Ronan Wright
    April 9th, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    I feel you Julian, I haven’t been to the movies much recently either, though that’s more out of a desire to avoid most of the garbage clogging up the theatres at the minute.

  7. 7 le0pard13
    April 9th, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Excellent review of this film, Ronan. I think you captured its essence quite well. My daughter has read all of the books in the series and so it was on me to take her to the film. I did get caught up in it, though the early shaky cam scenes seemed excessive just to show the audience we’re into recording this like any other watching this from the actual woods (and making me a little motion sick). Still, I did enjoy the experience, and especially Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss — btw, as a former archer, I think she was spot-on in the technical sense with the bow. You don’t always see that in film. As Ruth said, the story does have that redemptive quality along with the sacrificial tone you describe so well. Thanks for this.

  8. 8 Julian
    April 9th, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    Actually my dad(He’s recently gotten a job) may take me and my two younger nieces to see it this tuesday since my local theater ha a discount on tuesdays.

  9. 9 The Focused Filmographer
    April 10th, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    a very fantastic review here Ronan. You sum up a lot of my thoughts as well.

    I read that Jennifer Lawrence is a lefty, yet she did her archery right-handed. Haven’t been able to verify, but if that’s true, that’s amazing.

    I wasn’t a fan of all the shaky cam myself.

  10. 10 Ronan
    April 11th, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Glad you enjoyed it Michael. My wife has just started reading the first book, I think I’d rather download the audiobook. I’m partial the odd audiobook like yourself so something like Audible is a Godsend for me.

    I’m with you on the shaky cam stuff, had me reeling at times and I think it was over used. Aside from that there aren’t many things I can say I didn’t like about the film which, for a teen fiction adaptation, says a lot.

    You used to [searches for appropriate verb] arch[?]? That’s pretty cool. Do you own your own bow? Don you think you could ‘fend for yourself’ like Katniss does if it came down to it? :-)

    The tone of the story and its themes, which cut through the hype, is what appealed to me about the film.

  11. 11 Ronan
    April 12th, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Congratulations to your Dad Julian on his new job! I’m glad to hear that you have a Crazy Tuesday type offer near you, it makes the movies so much more affordable doesn’t it?

  12. 12 Ronan
    April 12th, 2012 at 11:12 am

    That is impressive. As a righty myself I’ve recently started to try out my left foot when playing soccer and I know how strange it feels, at least initially, to use the ‘wrong’ side of your body so to speak. Jennifer Lawrence really does give the impression of being as capable and as strong as the characters she plays.

    The shaky cam didn’t do it for me either, it was appropriate at times but I think it would have had more of an impact had it been used sparingly.

  13. 13 le0pard13
    April 13th, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    Ah, great to hear we have another thing in common, the audiobook :-).

    I used to own 3 bows, a recurve and two compounds. I’d shoot target (the Olympic Games type of archery) and field archery (shooting targets on courses scattered over various types of terrains). It was quite enjoyable… then I got into golf (and I’ve been messed up since 😉 — poorer, too).

    Thanks, Ronan.

  14. 14 The Focused Filmographer
    April 24th, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    Just stopped back in to say hi! Have a great week, Ronan

  15. 15 Sam Fragoso
    April 26th, 2012 at 11:50 pm

    Where did FILMPLICITY go?

    We miss you.

  16. 16 Ronan Wright
    May 1st, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Hi Sam, we’re still here. Just been busy of late. It’s nice to know we’re missed though, thanks for caring :-)

  17. 17 Izael
    May 1st, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    Hi Ronan, I subscribe to Position Papers and just love it. I nonetheless was a bit surprised by your take on the “Hunger Games” because I read (and watched a video) on the movie in Mercatornet and found the view of Clare Cannon quite reasonable. Have you read/watched it? Here are the final lines: Clare Cannon has serious reservations about the books and says she won’t be seeing the movie. Watch her talk on video about her five reasons not seeing The Hunger Games. Yours. Izael

  18. 18 Ronan Wright
    May 8th, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Hi Izael, glad to hear you’re supporting Position Papers! I can’t say I agree with Claire’s points though I do understand her point of view. For myself, I took something positive from the film. I hadn’t read the books before seeing the movie but I found Katniss’ willingness to sacrifice herself for her family striking. I probably won’t be reading the books but I do think the series is refreshing do think it has some positive Christian themes. Thanks for the comment Izael. Ronan.

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