Cinema Review: The Hunger Games Simon Fitzjohn March 21, 2012 Movie Reviews 943 Having avoided the hoopla and hysteria that has surrounded author Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of novels, it was very easy to approach The Hunger Games with a sizeable dose of cynicism. Battle Royale without the over-the-top violence, I thought. Or perhaps The Running Man, minus the biceps. But the truth is, while this big-budget opus is certainly indebted and influenced to those that have gone before it, that does not stop The Hunger Games from being a mightily enjoyable chunk of entertainment in its own right. The story is probably known to all and sundry whom plan on seeing this, but here goes anyway. Set in the near future, where North America no longer exists (it is now called Panem), a rebellion by the people is swiftly quashed by the ruling powers. They then split Panem into twelve districts, each guarded and fenced off, with little or no movement in between. While the Capitol is affluent and drenched in gaudiness, these districts are desperate areas, with starvation and illness a way of life. In order to keep their tight grip on authority, each year a boy and girl aged between 12-18 is selected from each of the districts and shipped off to the Capitol, where they are trained and prepared for the Hunger Games. These games are a straight up fight to the death, with 24 entering the arena and only one allowed to leave – all televised to the baying masses of course. The key thrust of the story is the character of Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who becomes the first person ever to volunteer for the Games when she asks to replace her younger sister, who had been selected in the Games lottery. Everdeen is a strange character really – not quite an antihero, but certainly not someone you warm to straight from the off. In fact, the feeling I had at the start was that we were being told to root for her, rather than necessarily wanting to. Everdeen is selected for District 12, along with Peeta Mellark (there are a lot of stupid names in this), played by Josh Hutcherson. Off they go to the Capitol, where they are wined, dined and trained in preparation. The arrival in the Capitol is where the film really kicks into gear as the vision of the ruling city is memorable – all garish costumes, overblown sets and false emotion. All this is mere preamble though to the main event itself, when Everdeen, Mellark and company enter the arena to battle to the death. A lot has been made in the press of the violent tones in this film, and indeed the seven seconds that were trimmed by the BBFC to get a 12A rating. There are stabbings, neck breakings, people shot with arrows and much more – while not necessarily graphic, the emotion is certainly there and may prove too much for younger audiences (if the preview screening I went to is any indication). But just as much emphasis (if not more) is placed on the characters and developing relationships, and this is where Lawrence and Hutcherson come to the fore, with both delivering solid performances. True, a romantic subplot does slow things down in the final third, but not to the extent that you ever lose interest. Aside from the two leads, there are also enjoyable roles for Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Wes Bentley, Elizabeth Banks and even Lenny Kravitz as a cornucopia of bizarre characters pulling the various strings. Director Gary Ross’ handling is assured, although the overuse of shaky camerawork proves grating at times. Overall though, The Hunger Games is an entertaining thrill ride and the very definition of a blockbuster – which is no bad thing.