This post is the unedited copy of The Hunger Games movie review, published 8th April 2012 in our film review column Animadversion. The column appears in iMAGES on Sunday (Dawn Newspaper). Published links are at the end of the post.
There’s Murder by Numbers in the Near Future – On Live TV.
By Farheen Jawaid
The Hunger Games, the new adapted young-adult literature, has the right ingredients for a solid block buster: a strong heroine, her harrowing battle against the odds, and a budding love-story blooming over the horizon. Aesthetic brilliance aside, everything here spells box-office gold.
Our heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) with her mother (Paula Malcomson) and sister Primrose (Willow Shields) live in district 12 in the Country of Panem. It is a place sunk deep in starvation and despair in a post-apocalyptic future. To survive, Katniss hunts in the restricted forest with her bow and arrows skill (something that will be handy later on in the movie).
Regardless of starvation, there’s a hint of romance in the air. As befitting any good looking girl, she also has a hunky childhood friend – Gale (Liam Hemsworth) – to sit on scenic hills with.
However, soon things turn bleaker when the selection for tribute players (a fancy tag for gladiatorial contenders) for ‘The Hunger Games’ start. The Games (as it is called) is an event mimicking the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. So children from the ages of 12 to 18 (prime age for stars in young-adult literature), are selected from 11 other districts besides Katniss in a game of death imminent.
Prim is picked as a tribute (by the sophisticated way of pulling names out of a fish bowl), but Katniss volunteers instead. Besides her the other contestant from district 12 is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s boy. The two are taken to the grandiose Capitol and here they are prepared for the game by a former winner Haymitch (Woody Harrelson). As pseudo celebrities, they have a life of fake leisure. They have a sterile-looking, minimally designed, apartment floor at their disposal and are chaperoned by the garishly make-upped Effie (Elizabeth Banks) and stylized by Cinna (Lenny Kravitz sporting golden eyeliner).
The Games, once it starts, has 24 players, with the last one living declared winner. The spectacle is broadcast live to the districts – and the elite of the society – in a reality-show guise. As with any reality show, ratings make the difference. If a tribute gets good rating, sponsors will help during the Games.
Suzanne Collins, the author of the book, adapts the movie with Billy Ray (Shattered Glass) and Gary Ross (Pleasantville and Seabiscuit), who also directs. Despite Collins’ inclusion in the screenwriting team, the screenplay still comes off without confidence, or emotional magnetism. It often loses the chance to create adept turmoil, before and during The Games – which take up about 50% of the movie.
There’s one scene that hits the nail on the head. In it Katniss is getting ready for the start of The Games and we see her shivering with nerves, and the unaccustomed feeling of nearby death. Such subtle emotion releases were a necessity that the movie lacked (on the other hand, an empathic score from James Newton Howard is anything but emotionally detached).
Lawrence, present almost in every scene of The Hunger Games, gives an inspiring performance only when she’s in a “Winters Bone” like environment. Otherwise she looks impassive and apathetic, leaving only Harrelson with any ounce of emotional baggage.
The gore is almost non-existent, however, the movie does frighten from an unlikely corner. Armed with an unsympathetic, hair-raisingly fake laugh, an electric blue wig and a devilish, plastic, smile on his face, Stanley Tucci gets full marks as the villain-looking host of the show presenting the Games.
The second devil with a Satan-inspired beard is Wes Bentley. He plays Seneca, the keep of the games. Donald Sutherland, the despot ruling this totalitarian future, hams up his screen-time.
With a bumper record opening of $211 million internationally (with the budget of 78 million), it goes without saying, sequels are set for the future. Three more movies will be made out of the two remaining books (as the growing trend is nowadays with hit children literature).
Unlike Twilight Saga, whose star-crossed longing takes its toll on a person’s senses, The Hunger Games does well enough on its theme of suppression of youth and society. I just hope its sequels won’t be as detached as this one.
Released by Lionsgate, The Hunger Games is rated PG-13. Many children die gruesome deaths for sake of television ratings, and the need for sustained monarchy.
The printed/online version is: http://dawn.com/2012/04/08/animadversion-murder-by-numbers/