Friday, 23 March 2012

Review: The Hunger Games

Rating: 12a
Duration: 142 mins

Like John Carter, The Hunger Games is the second blockbuster-type to be released in March and bodes some similar traits: it's a healthy budgeted sci-fi adventure based on popular literature. However, the elements that unfortunately fall flat for the former are atoned here. By contrast, The Hunger Games is, by and large, a much more consistent and stronger film that emotionally touches, visually thrills and narratively engages.

Fortunately, this is not a film executed in the same fashion as teeny sensation Twilight either, and instead adheres to a maturer, more dignified stance, whilst still catering for its intended younger demographic. The 12a rating might appear restricting, but after a reported seven seconds of footage was removed in order to downgrade it from a 15, one can forgive such actions, as the impact is still there. 

The one element that stands out in a negative capacity is the excessive use of the 'shaky cam' effect, especially near the beginning. If used appropriately, this technique can deliver to devastating effect - take The Blair Witch Project for example - but here it isn't required, especially during non-action, uneventful sequences: the unnecessary disorientation will have audiences breathing a sigh of relief when, in stark contrast, it cuts to a wide, static shot. In the film's context it's slightly bizarre, yet somewhat forgivable.

The story is based in the future; set in a dystopian America where the country is split into twelve districts overruled by the Capitol. Each year two tributes are randomly selected from each district - one male and one female - and are trained and mentored before being thrown into a regulated forest where they must kill or be killed; rendering the remaining survivor the winner, culminating in a reality TV style satire. Think along the lines of Battle Royale meets The Running Man meets The Truman Show, and you get a sense of the concept. The juxtaposition of politics and reality television are interjected, as an effect on one can have direct impact on the other.

The setting, in an unspecified year, generates the strong sci-fi visual element: the weakest locations are the slum-like districts that, in truth, were not shown all that often. However, the Capitol, which is the thriving, luxurious city, is well conceived. What takes the shine off the interesting technology and pleasurable aesthetic of the surroundings are the costumes. Deemed 'futuristic', it's a little heavy-handedly conveyed, as the use of psychedelic hair, flamboyant outfits and, most notably, the inventive beard designs, which screams 'typical funky image of the future', rather than something more believable, as it detracts from the rest of the set up.

Jennifer Lawrence gives a solid performance as Katniss; a young woman who volunteers herself in place of her little sister that's unluckily chosen. Along her journey through the live televised Hunger Games, she involves herself in alliances, tragedy and some fight-to-the-death scenarios. Her character is layered, and gradually reveals itself throughout the story; complemented by a supporting role from Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), and what can only be described as a handful of appearances from Liam Hemsworth, as close friend Gale.

Katniss's journey is an engaging and thrilling experience, as she hunts and strives to stay alive with the pace constantly switching, bar the single saddest moment of the film, which feels too drawn out; forcefully attempting to pull at the heartstrings. Thankfully, the length of the film doesn't prove taxing as the flow of the story pulls you in, you will see the two-and-a-half hours as nothing less than an entertaining and thrilling piece of science fiction.

As previously touched upon, the use of the 'shaky cam' is exacerbated - specifically towards the end - in conjunction with claustrophobic, super quick cuts that go beyond the point of disorientation. Whether this is, at times, to disguise the violence is debatable. However, in some scenes it really is unclear as to what is happening when this unpleasant technique rears its ugly head.

The final ten minutes, of what is a long film, actually feels rushed; almost as if the director realises near the end of the shoot that they've ran over and need to jump from quick scene to quick scene  in order to bridge a resolution.

VERDICT: Creating a convincing and enjoyable sci-fi flick is one thing, but achieving consistency and quality throughout is another. Fortunately, The Hunger Games succeeds in both, keeping the story and action grounded, especially without overdoing it on the CGI front. Interesting political undertones provide an aftermath of speculation that nicely conclude the film as a single entry, but sets up further conflicts for its inevitable sequels.

NB: Amidst a rather tense forestry scene, prepare yourself for one of the most inappropriately hilarious moments that even the likes of Noel Fielding will be proud of.