Sam: Based on the novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is the latest big budget attempt to kick-start a silver screen series in the vein of The Twilight Saga. The difference this time however, is that The Hunger Games is actually good. Director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville) avoids playing it safe with the source material’s surprising intensity, which follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) who volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the annual, gladiatorial Hunger Games.
The titular games are essentially a televised fight to the death of 24 ‘tributes’ – one boy and girl aged 12 to 18 chosen in a lottery from each of 12 lower class districts (surely I wasn’t the only one rooting for District 9?). These individuals are offered up in tribute to the rich and powerful of the Capitol. As it turns out, the games are used as a way to keep the districts under heel after a failed rebellion some 70 years ago.
Will: How nice it is to have a movie directed at young adults that doesn’t hold back! The main cast portray realistic and appropriate characteristics. Katniss is mature, gritty and resourceful; Peeta quietly resolute; Cato appropriately brash and arrogant; Haymitch world-weary and bitter.
So many characters capture your attention, the movie could never be (fairly) criticized for not holding it throughout! Characters like Effie Trinket (the next Dolores Umbridge – so much pink!), President Snow (the always commanding and best actor in the family, Donald Sutherland) and Caesar Flickerman (a far better version of the horrible Chris Tucker The Fifth Element character) add generous doses of humour, menace and though all are totally over the top, they are appropriately so. Their characters clash ever so superbly with the tributes.
Sam: It’s a plot reminiscent to Battle Royale and Stephen King’s The Running Man, and also reminded me of Cinda Williams Chima’s ‘The Warrior Heir‘ which I recently read. The story type is nothing terribly new but it does create a compelling setting in Panem (imagine a dystopian North America of the future, where wealth is concentrated in the self-indulgent Capitol while the districts struggle to survive with the dregs). Although the social commentary is generally implicit, the story has clearly benefitted from having Collins as co-screenwriter; despite not having read the novel, the film nonetheless had the feeling of a respectful adaptation.
Will: It’s just so completely non-Hollywood. Well, aside from two moments of pure, contrived, convenience. Overall it’s absolutely outstanding in its originality.
Did you know John C. Reilly was a contender to portray Haymitch? Is it just me, or would that have been disastrous?! He’s barely an actor! Woody Harrelson as Haymitch was his usual brilliant self and commanded the screen like few others can.
Sam: I know what you mean about being contrived, but it feels like the premise perhaps forced Collins into a corner to have the story take the route it did at those points. At least it was handled well. Personally, I was more annoyed by the intermittent shaky cam since it sometimes made it difficult to follow the action. On the other hand I felt that it did add something to the experience as well. Maybe because it wasn’t as ‘clean’ or ‘safe’ as it could have been. It gave it an edge.
And yes, Haymitch was terrific! Reilly isn’t a terrible actor but Harrelson nailed that role. My favourite of the supporting cast though was Stanley Tucci as blue-haired Caesar Flickerman. I like how they cut to Flickerman over the course of the games to provide commentary, which helped us to understand the rules in a natural manner rather than just dumping them on us at the beginning.
Will: It was better handled than a lot of other movies, certainly. While annoying, it still made sense. At least it didn’t require a bizarre change of heart from a character, or even worse, a deus ex machina moment.
I loved the shaky cam, it added to the realism. Occasionally they overdid it slightly but I think it paid off. I find Reilly grating, aside from a strong supporting effort in Talladega Nights. I can’t imagine him in the role, so am very glad they went with Woody. Tucci was brilliant, wasn’t he? As was his role. That, and the cuts to scenes with Seneca Crane and his fellow ‘gamemakers’. I actually wish I could watch his show – few people exude such charisma. I would have loved to see each individual death but I suppose that would have been gratuitous.
Sam: Agreed. I’m still surprised by how much I liked the film overall. Any issues are ultimately relegated to minor tidbits here and there. For instance, it’s long and not super fast paced so I understand when some say they find it a bit slow.
That said, I was never bored and came out of the screening wanting to see and know more about the characters and story at large (I found the rich-poor dichotomy particularly interesting and would like to see it expanded on). No doubt I’ll have read all three books by the time ‘Catching Fire’ (the sequel) eventually hits cinemas. Until then it’s good to know that The Hunger Games is a fine entertainment, one that bodes well for the rest of the series. My rating: four mockingjays out of five.
Will: It might be a little early but I want a prequel. I also agree that the film did a good job in that, while an excellent movie in its own right, it also kept a lot open and left you wanting more; professional athletes, always wanting more.
Your rating is moved, seconded and the motion is carried. 4/5 for me too.
PS. Key moments in the story were ruined at our showing by idiotic teenagers who felt it necessary to provide added sound effects, like ‘oooooooooh’. Learn how to behave in public and grow up! As The Hunger Games taught me, of every 24 children aged between 12 and 18, 23 of them should be gagged. I like those odds.
Sam: I hear you on the ambient sound effects, especially for laughter during sad scenes. But that’s a whole other can of worms for another time, another rant.
I’m not sure I condone your gagging of 23 children though – it doesn’t seem like particularly healthy policy. Perhaps you’re a young version of President Snow in disguise? In any case, if there’s one thing I learnt from my time with The Hunger Games it’s that the gods of chance are cruel, capricious beings. The slogan of the film should have been ‘may the odds ever screw you over’.
Overall tag team review scores are based on the average of the individual scores, rounded down. This way a movie can only get a 5 star rating if everyone rates it 5/5.
The Hunger Games is a fine piece of action adventure entertainment, one that’s more mature, intense and thought-provoking than it’s common ilk and benefits from a strong heroine and colourful supporting cast.