Film review of the futuristic action/adventure/fantasy, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson.
Director: Gary Ross. Lionsgate/Color Force. (12a).
Cast & credits
Producers: Nina Jacobson, Jon Kilik.
Writers: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, Billy Ray.
Camera: Tom Stern.
Music: James Newton Howard.
Sets: Philip Messina.
Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Toby Jones, Wes Bentley, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland.
In the future, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) voluntarily takes her younger sister’s place in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death in which two teenagers from each of the twelve Districts of Panem are chosen at random to compete. She is trained by a former victor from her district (Harrelson) and is paired with young Peeta (Hutcherson).
I will probably be strung up from the nearest available tree for saying this, by any one member of the army of fans of co-screenwriter Collins’ ‘teenage Running Man’ books, but God this film was dull.
But then, what would I know, being only a mere, argumentative film critic. After all, Collins’ mammoth best-sellers had shifted a mighty 40 million copies as of 2013 and this first movie adaptation earned a colossal $691m at the box office.
I freely admit to not having read the original books, so am not able to draw a full comparison between the two, but as a stand alone film this was an inconsequential, unaccountably expensive and incidentless affair.
Strange in a sense as I would have thought that the first movie version of a beloved trilogy in the novelists own sure hands, would have thundered onto the big screen.
Perhaps Collins was rather too close to the source material and unable to step away from her ‘baby’ to take a fresh look at how to utilise camera, editing, production design and CGI effects to open it up into a series of breathtaking moving images.
Like the first part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (directed, co-written and co-produced by a husband and wife team) we are left with a lumbering character introduction. A mightily epic way to set the scene without setting the audience on fire.
Shorn of some of the more flabby elements hanging around it’s belly (the tribunes countdown is from 50, why not 10?; the never-ending dinner scenes as Katniss and Peeta train) we could have a film considerably shorter and tighter and possibly more engaging.
But this comes from the point of view of someone not already enamoured with the events depicted in text. Were I 20 years younger and had these characters tattooed throughout my brain, I would certainly have thought differently seeing them made flesh on the screen.
As with that first LOTR instalment, this is also gearing up for adventures, themes and people to come and there are smart points to this film.
Dystopian science fiction is always relentlessly depressing in tone and with Hollywood relentlessly obsessed with youth, it is a natural progression that children should one day be pitted against each other in a filmic fight to the death. So the satire about the pornographic, microscopic coverage of real-life trauma and suffering that pervades the reality TV that fills TV schedules, is razor sharp and heightens this side of the film.
This is typified by Tucci, in the finest performance of the film, as the facile coverage host, gaudily made-up and coiffured like all residents of the capital, glibly inventing back-stories for his contestants to up the viewing figures, whilst simultaneously seeming to ignore what they say. Here is a man who wakes up, smells what he shovels and flashes the broadest of Colgate smiles in self-appreciation.
Banks, as Effie Trinket, has an even more arresting look, bee stung lips and pasty pallor, with white, tightly curled blonde hair, like some horrifically shrill, vapid Mae Murray.
Katniss, our moral and unimpeachable hero, is coerced into reality-prostituting herself, playing up to a ‘showmance’ with Hutcherson in order to secure corporate backing to help aid her survival.
This was Lawrence’s step-up to Oscar-winning stardom and this hugely likeable actress puts in a ballsy, resourceful, self-assured spin on a role she was probably born to play. It looks as if the role has been built around her, but more than 30 other actresses were auditioned, including Chloe Grace Moretz and Abigail Breslin.
She is ably supported by a game Harrelson as her alcoholic mentor Haymitch Abernathy and Hutcherson as her callow games partner.
Ross uses a shaky camera, cinema veritee approach, lending some immediacy to the proceedings, as if Katniss is running for her life from the get-go, but he needed to retain more control on what lay ahead of her.