The Hunger Games
Taking inspiration from similar concept films (not just Battle Royale) is nothing new and can still lead to a good individual film.
Who remembers that comfortably funny well praised film titled Big? Where Tom Hanks plays a boy who wishes to be an adult and what pursues is genuinely quite funny-ish. Well Gary Ross wrote this comedy romp in what was his first notable film role, his directing career is fairly short, in fact only two other films are on the list. His directing debut came in 1998 with Pleasantville where Toby Maguire and Reese Witherspoon find themesleves in a 1950’s sitcom, I have not seen it but been informed it makes for a decent viewing. After this he and his new found friend (I have no idea if they are friends, but Toby likes Gary enough to do another film) Toby Maguire set out to tell the tale of the famous horse Seabiscuit, again I have heard it is worth the watch.
The Hunger Games takes us to the future where the ‘Capitol’ takes one boy and girl from 12 districts to compete in a sadistic game of survival all broadcast live on television. Katniss Everdeen sacrifices her self in place of her sister where she must enter the battle arena against 23 others.
I might as well begin with this particular debate now at least to be done with it, but mainly to respect the film. Upon release of both the novel of The Hunger Games written by Suzanne Collins and then the lead up to the release of the film, a main topic of conversation was the similarities it shared with Battle Royale. In-fact many accused the novel of directly stealing the very idea of Koushun Takami’s Japanese novel. My personal opinion? (er yes please mate) films have and will always take inspiration from one and other, this case is not different. Simply look at the films released prior to Battle Royale that it shares similar themes with, for example The Running Man centers itself on the theme of a game show that executes criminals through sadistic games of survival. Perhaps even before that we had the multi talented (LOL) Sylvester Stallone in Death Race:2000 in which contestants are forced to run down innocent pedestrians for points and then just after this Logans Run where life must end at 30. The important running theme here is the idea of a dystopian society and innocent lives are sacrificed for the entertainment of the majority. This idea will continue to be used by films and if done properly I see no problem, my only frustration came from Suzanne Collins denying she had never heard of Battle Royale despite her background in entertainment. (hmmm)
Enough of that it’s the film that is important here and the quality is high enough that we cannot ignore it (as if the lack of quality would make a difference) At a generous length of 2hours 20 the film needs to return the audiences expectancy, especially through the chemistry of two central young characters. Prior to Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence was known for her work in Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone where she played the leading role of a girl trying to find her drug dealing father. Unfortunately I have seen very little of her work, in-fact this is my first full experience and she seems to be following the right side of a child actors career. Here as the lead she has to deal with a fair share of emotions all of witch are made believable and importantly as the viewer we emphasis with her ludicrous but scary predicament.
Playing the shy love interest Josh Hutcherson is chosen as the boy Peeta Mellark to follow Katniss from District 12 to the games. I first saw Hutcherson when I went to see Jumanji sequel Zathura I was only about 11 but the fact that I enjoyed the film shows he must have given an adequate performance considering his age at the time. Here he was probably just as equally adequate without ever really catching our attention for that long. One major problem is he looks far too young where as Lawrence looks older than her real age meaning the relationship between the two of them was hard to grasp at times, nevertheless it achieved its main goal in that I wanted them to survive. Most other actors/characters feature far less in this film and it would take too long to delve through quite a large cast. Oddball Woody Harrelson plays the mentor in charge of preparing Katniss and Peeta for the challenge that lies ahead of them, he brought a nice fresh oddness to the table and was the light laughs of the film.
It’s been mentioned by many others so I won’t dwell too long, however I couldn’t leave out the issue of the 12 rating. As mentioned in my review of Super 8 the line between a 12 and a 15 is a tough one to judge. The BBFC say “The film was classified ’12’ for intense threat, moderate violence and occasional gory moments.” As with Super 8 it is a fantasy so therefore realism is less featured, meaning the impact of death is weaker, The Hunger Games though feels more mature and more real due to the age of the characters. Personally though I still remain on the side of the BBFC here, a 15 would be too harsh so a 12 leaves the viewer or rather parents to decide and allows an increase in profits for the film.
This won’t feel like anything new to any regular film viewer, however with decent action sequences helped by the creative input of cinematographer Tom Stern (Work includes: Gran Torino and Mystic River) it does make for an exciting ride. Mix together a not very remarkable but certainly believable bond between the two main leads and it creates an enjoyable adventure.