The Hunger Games has broken box office records this week, making $155 million (£98 million) during its opening weekend. But is this blockbuster one worth seeing? The answer is definitely, yes.
Based on the book by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is a clever satire of the television talent show genre, grounded in a gladiator style contest. Twelve districts choose two youngsters to compete in a televised fight to the death in penance for their uprising against the rich Capitol years earlier. At the district twelve reaping, contestants are selected from a raffle in which the number of times they are entered is based upon the amount of food they have taken from the authorities. When her younger sister’s name is called, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place as her district’s female tribute.
Although it might sound like there’s a lot of background information to take in, The Hunger Games presents this in a quick and uncomplicated way, immediately absorbing the audience into its dystopian version of the future.
Astutely, The Hunger Games makes good use of everything required for an entertaining series of the X Factor: pre and post-show analysis; publicity, sponsors and advertising; support for the underdog; love interests between contestants; and manipulation of the rules by the show’s creators. Indeed, The Hunger Games is a telling exploration of the impact of fame. Neither of The Hunger Games main protaganists intend for the game to change them, ‘if I’m going to die I want to still be me’ says Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). A knowing audience realises, of course, that change is inevitable, making the unfolding drama even more intense and uncomfortable to watch.
But, despite a strong script and obviously well thought out setting, there are a few holes in The Hunger Games. For instance, if the games offers the opportunity to become rich, why has there never been a volunteer from district twelve before? And, as it is surely in the district’s interest to win the games, why don’t they prepare and encourage their young people? I’m sure that these answers lie in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of Hunger Games novels, but in the film we are left to assume it’s a case of corruption and poor economy.
The Hunger Games director, Gary Ross, does a stunning job of telling the story from Katniss’ point of view highlighting her vulnerability and fear. Particularly compelling is the moment when Katniss walks out on stage for her first television interview – the audience sees and hears only what she does. Jennifer Lawrence is mesmerising as Katniss and triumphs in showing her development from nervous and uncomfortable teen to shrewd and confident contestant. Lawrence is also supported by a strong cast including Woody Harrelson as the initially obnoxious but mellowing former winner, Haymitch Abernathy, and Stanley Tucci as sharp television presenter Caeser Flickerman.
Visually, the Hunger Games is interesting too. District twelve’s grey and historic look, beautifully reflects its poverty and the despair of its residents. The Capitol’s fashion, however, is less convincing. Styled like characters from a futuristic Alice in Wonderland, the guady, freakish fashions and comedic facial hair of the Capitol’s main ensemble serve only to erode The Hunger Games’ believability.
Conceptually intelligent and imaginative, The Hunger Games is truly captivating and constantly keeps its audience guessing. Spectacular on the big screen, it’s certainly worthy of its box office success.
VERDICT: ✪ ✪ ✪ ✪
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