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The Hunger Games

April 20, 2012
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On holiday last summer, I was flicking through one of my girlfriend’s trashy magazines. It informed me that after Twilight and Harry Potter, the next young adult book series to watch for wasThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, with a film coming out in 2012. That film has now come out and I have now seen it.

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Firstly, I have not read any of the Hunger Games books, committing my own cardinal sin of movie adaptations. However, my girlfriend has and assures me that it is largely faithful to the source text, but the book was better. This isn’t too surprising as Suzanne Collins produced and co-wrote the script for this film. It’s a rare opportunity for writers to retain so much creative control over the adaptations of their work. Good for her!

I’m sure a plot synopsis is largely unnecessary but here I go anyway. Every year, 24 children are selected from the 12 impoverished districts surrounding the Capitol to compete in the Hunger Games. In the games, they must fight to the death until there is only one survivor. This is to teach the districts to learn their place and avoid another civil war. In District 12, Katniss Everdeen volunteers herself in the place of her sister. The film centres around her efforts to stay ahead and stay alive in the Hunger Games.

While I thought the film was good, I didn’t really like it. For the most part, it was too long and too dull. Congratulations on cramming the whole book into one film (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Twilight: Breaking Dawn, I’m looking at you!) but my God, some editing wouldn’t have hurt. Two hours, 22 minutes isn’t ridiculously long but with the long swathes of boredom, it seemed much longer.

The thing is that I can’t quite put my finger on why some parts were so boring. Oh wait, yes I can – Nothing happened. I’m not a glutton of fast-paced but vacuous action blockbusters but certainly at the beginning, there was nothing of interest onscreen. Things picked up in the Capitol onwards but it still had its moments of being dangerously dull.

That might have something to do with the largely terrible characterisation. Some of the other kids in the Hunger Games are clearly psychopaths but swagger about like particularly vindictive high school bullies. I couldn’t take them seriously as proper villains or just antagonists. They just struck me as caricatures. Other characters painfully 2-dimensional, like scenery. The only defining feature of Peeta, eventual love interest for Katniss, is that he’s the other tribute from District 12. That’s it!

The only real character is Katniss and thankfully, she saves the film. Played expertly by Jennifer Lawrence, she is the one person I could engage with. As such, I cared whether Katniss lived or died in the Hunger Games. Fortunate as she spends many scenes by herself in the middle of nowhere. As well as being credibly athletic and clever, she also displays a great deal of physical and emotional weakness. Attention, writers everywhere! This is how you do it!

Another problem is that I just don’t buy the set-up. The Hunger Games are supposed to keep the districts, who live in abject poverty, in line but also give them hope that things will get better. It also provides entertainment for the ridiculously advanced and affluent Capitol. How does that prevent rebellion? How does that inspire hope? A better way of preventing revolution would be to improve the districts, to at least the same century as the Capitol (Whose fashion palette always looks like a cheap knock-off of something by Terry Gilliam). Instead, the districts are continually punished because…all I can gather from the film is the ruling elite are dicks, frankly.

There have been obvious comparisons drawn with Battle Royale. I haven’t seen that film so I can’t comment but they do both feature children fighting to the death as entertainment.

The Hunger Games is a good film, I’m sure of it, but I’m not convinced it’s a great film. In my eyes at least. After a slow start, the trials and tribulations of Katniss do become quite watchable. Unfortunately, they are interspersed with frankly flat characters and a weak premise. If you’ve read the book, you’ll probably like it (I’m taking my girlfriend’s word on this one). If you haven’t, I’m less certain.

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