Two Of A Kind: Matilda Dixon-Smith Liked “The Hunger Games” So Much She Saw It Twice.

Posted on May 2, 2012

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So much has already been said about The Hunger Games, the recent blockbuster film based on Suzanne Collins’ highly successful books for young adults. The reception of the film, amongst critics and consumers, has been overwhelmingly positive. And here’s why.

In war-ravaged Panem (modern-day North America), the central controlling state (the Capitol) holds an annual televised event, the Hunger Games, where one boy and girl from each of Panem’s twelve miserable districts gets tossed in an arena and told that only one of them will emerge the victor.

THE MOCKINGJAY

This fight-to-the-death is where our protagonist, straight-shooting Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) must end up. And she does, after volunteering to take the place of her younger sister Prim, who is originally picked for this year’s Games. Katniss and her fellow District 12 tribute Peeta (Josh Hutchenson) are shepherded off to the Capitol where they are pruned, polished and prepped for the on-camera spectacle of the Games. Katniss is a hard nut to crack, but eventually she softens on a select few, namely her soft-voiced stylist (played with surprising aplomb by Lenny Kravitz) and her drunken mentor, former District 12 victor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson).

Once the tributes are in the arena, the action commences blood and tears flow liberally as the twenty-four youngsters set about knocking each other off. Katniss trusts no one, which complicates things between her and Peeta (who, during an on-camera interview, is coerced into admitting to a long-standing crush on Katniss). Their relationship oscillates between suspicion, allegiance, violence and tenderness. Watching on from District 12 is Katniss’ dashing but disheartened childhood sweetheart, Gale (Liam Hemsworth).

Oooh love!?!

Collins has devised a gripping story, and this is forms the basis for the film’s now-assured success. Since she is also one of the scriptwriters, the film version is sure-footed (the books have such a cinematic quality to them, though, that this is unsurprising). In fact, in some ways it suffers from a pain-staking persistence in getting all the parts of the book onto the screen. Sometimes scenes feel laboured and clunky with exposition and minor detail. It’s also long; going to see it means committing to 2 ½ hours in a darkened cinema.

This is only a minor misstep, however, because most of what makes The Hunger Games such great viewing is its wicked action and suspense. The film is shot half in a shaky, documentary-style, and half with the cinematic precision of an action blockbuster. It gives everything a sense of reality so palpable that you can almost smell the blood and the dirt. The misery of life in District 12, the brutality and the despair, is rendered in a palate of muted greys and coal dust. In comparison, the extravagance of the Capitol (with Panem’s bizarre and colourful aristocrats) is visually sumptuous. All of this, while it makes for excellent viewing, isn’t what gives The Hunger Games its edge.

Peeta, Katniss’ true love?

No, what makes it so easy to enjoy is the surprisingly grown-up world of Panem. The books may be made for teenagers (the heavy emphasis on boy-related whinging in Collins’ sophomore tome, Catching Fire, is proof of that) but the material doesn’t patronise its audience. We are not spared the unpleasantness of the Games, a truly horrific experience where adults force children to turn on each other and become barbarians. The film does, of course, tone down the violence of the novel (where some scenes are so gruesome it seems almost gratuitous), but the effect is still strong. Collins allows teenagers to revel in a world where humans can be cruel and untrustworthy, but where there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It is, I think, a good message for a viewer on the precipice of adulthood.

We are also treated to a heroine who is complicated, troublesome, often selfish, but decidedly adult. There’s nothing one-dimensional about Katniss’ heroism, she is a stronger and more challenging character than a Harry Potter or a Bella Swan. This is perfectly encompassed in Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. She is a seriously tough chick, brainy and ruthless, but with a strange edge of compassion. She also produces (amongst her mostly identical hard-faced looks) some stunning expressions of terror and determination. She is certainly a hero that children should identify with, someone who struggles against selfishness, fear, and anger, in order to do what’s right. I’ll admit that the writing in The Hunger Games trilogy is fairly basic (while Katniss is a better hero than Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling is clearly a superior writer to Collins), but this actually gives the film a punch of simplicity.

Lenny Kravitz as Cinna

There’s even a grown-up edge to the romance – though in the film the relationship between Katniss, Gale and Peeta is not portrayed so well as it is in the novel. Perhaps, though, this is somewhat due to Liam Hemsworth having a total of about three frames on camera (which may not be a bad thing, considering what we’ve seen from him in the likes of The Last Song).

Panem is a brutal world full of broken, imperfect people who (mostly) get the chance to choose between the right path and the path that leads to terror and destruction. This well-worn but revitalised concept is encapsulated in every frame of The Hunger Games, and I for one am eagerly anticipating the next instalment.

Do you agree with Matilda’s assessment of the Games? If not maybe compose a few poison barbed comment… and ‘may the odds be ever in your favour’. If you’d like to read more of Matilda’s reviews take a look here.

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Posted in: Movies