It seems like everything these days has to be “the next” something. The Voice is the next X Factor. Facebook was the next MySpace. Twilight was the next Harry Potter. And now The Hunger Games is the next Twilight.
But in reality they are totally different products, and in so many ways. Twilight’s about vampires, The Hunger Games is about a dystopian society. Twilight‘s for younger females, The Hunger Games has something for everyone. Twilight is shit (SORRY), The Hunger Games is good.
OK, it’s not perfect. Those familiar with Suzanne Collins’ novels and those going in without any prior knowledge will both find flaw, and judging by all the hype it’s had in the press you’d be forgiven for feeling short-changed for not getting Film Of The Century. You could argue that Gale and Peeta are too two-dimensional, that the ending is a little hasty, that there’s not enough time dedicated to the actual Games or that the violent scenes aren’t graphic enough, and you’d have a point. For the record I disagree on the fourth count, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Let’s go back a step. If you’ve been hiding in the deserted wasteland District 13 for the last few months (inside joke) and have no idea what’s going on, here’s the jist: Post-uprising, it’s become a regular ‘thing’ in Panem that, in order to keep the public in line, every year one 12-18 year-old male and one 12-18 year-old female from each of the twelve districts will go head-to-head in a televised battle to the death. Only one will go home alive.
Despite its shortcomings, it is without question the best adaptation of a popular novel for a very, very long time. Of course you’re not going to get the same intricacy to the characters or depth of storytelling without A) the author’s narration or B) a seven-hour running time, but Gary Ross has a damn good attempt. Visually, it’s flawless. The lavishness of the Capitol and the contrasting emptiness of District 12 are both brilliant, and whoever was in charge of costume design deserves some serious recognition come 2013 awards season.
Some of the set-pieces are adapted to perfection. The “reaping” is just brilliant, from Elizabeth Banks’ unsettling enthusiasm to the handheld-style camerawork and the complete omission of music. Similarly the first couple of minutes of the actual Hunger Games, where the number of contestants is instantly halved, is powerfully brutal even without the 7 seconds of gore shaved off to obtain a 12A rating. When the ruthless Cato goes in to stab a tiny pubescent boy to death, you don’t need to see his blood and guts shooting all over the place to feel the force of it, and though the camerawork is a little too shaky at times, it’s a damn hard-hitting sequence.
Jennifer Lawrence (as heroine Katniss) is incredible. Previously little-known despite her Oscar nod for Winter’s Bone, she is tasked with carrying the entire film on her relatively inexperienced shoulders, and she does it with very little room for improvement. Stanley Tucci is (as is now standard) pitch-perfect as the TV host, Woody Harrelson does a great job as mentor Haymitch and Banks comes closest out of anyone to stealing Lawrence’s thunder.
As for the boys, it’s a tough one to call. Josh Hutcherson is good as Katniss’ fellow District 12 competitor Peeta, but, be it the fault of screenwriter, director or actor, the character’s motives are noticeably lacking the same unpredictable ambiguity they had in the novel. As for Liam Hemsworth as Katniss’ BFF Gale, he doesn’t have a great deal of screentime in this first film but he does the smouldering, brooding look to a good standard. The only drawback is that there’s no way in hell he can pass for a teenager.
The higher a pedestal you put something on, the easier it is to be critical, and The Hunger Games has been hyped up to the max. In my opinion, despite its flaws, it’s worthy of the acclaim. It’s been a long time since a film of this nature has come around and actually been good. It’s got that same, grand epicness of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy or the better Harry Potter films, and it lays the groundwork for a potentially game-changing trilogy. Perfect? No. Unmissable? Yes.