May Issue 2012

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 12 years ago

With a Mayan-predicted threat for planet Earth towards the end of this year, studio bosses seem to be especially superstitious. The cinematic calendar is crammed with big-budgeted, potential blockbusters and the first to be released in 2012 is The Hunger Games.

Directed and co-written by Gary Ross, whose last film was 2003’s Seabiscuit, the film is set in a totalitarian nation called Panem, where the filthy-rich live in the futuristic Capitol and the starving poor live in the 12 Districts. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), the main character, lives in the twelfth and poorest District.

Every year one boy and one girl from each District, between the ages of 12 and 18, are chosen by lottery to participate in the Hunger Games. This televised event serves as entertainment for the Capitol; the 24 ‘tributes,’ as they are called, are sent into the wilderness to literally fight for victory. There can only be one winner; 23 tributes die each year. When Katniss’ younger sister Primrose is chosen as ‘tribute,’ Katniss volunteers to be made one instead. Thus she is thrust into this mad world, where she meets various characters, such as Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), her stylist, or Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a former winner of the ‘games’ and thus her mentor.

If seen in entirety, The Hunger Games is slightly underwhelming. The film is almost 2.5 hours long, making the pacing somewhat uneven. Furthermore, too much time is wasted on setting-up the actual Hunger Games event. The battle scenes then aren’t graphic enough for there to be an emotional connection with any of the dying ‘tributes.’ In fact, these portions in the film are the weakest of the entire narrative. As the film is based on a young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, which itself is part of a trilogy, many ideas or themes aren’t fully explored. There is a supposed love triangle between Katniss, her best friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and fellow ‘tribute’ from District Twelve, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). This isn’t too evident in this first film. However, one never knows what may happen in the upcoming film versions for books number two and three, Catching Fire andMockingjay.

What works in favour of The Hunger Games is that the film rests on some very competent performances and strong, vivid cinematography. Jennifer Lawrence carries the film effortlessly and there hasn’t been such a strong performance by a central, female character in recent memory. Josh Hutcherson underplays his part beautifully, but Liam Hemsworth is hardly there in the film. Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman, the slimy talk-show host, delivers a stellar performance and Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland and especially Wes Bentley, all provide some solid support.

Pre-release, The Hunger Games was being touted by some as the new Twilight, especially because of the aforementioned love triangle. Thank goodness this film isn’t as bad as ‘those’ films. One just wishes that future instalments will improve significantly, because The Hunger Games is a very average, one-time watch for now.

This review was originally published in the May issue of Newsline.

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany