Firstly, EBFS is assured by someone who HAS ploughed through Suzanne Collins trilogy of futuristic, murderous teenagers that this adaptation is a faithful representation of the novel. Faithful in spirit definitely, some minor characters and plotlines have been jettisoned for obvious reasons and that seems fair and reasonable. Secondly, this is a review of the rated 12 version that we have been “granted” here in the UK. So, whilst a bigger portion of the novel’s fans might be able to see it up on the screen we are left with a film, about 12-18 year olds murdering each other for the delight of a dilettante society ruled by a totalitarian government, which lacks spine. And guts. And even blood.
Jennifer Lawrence, with more than a hint of a young Juliette Lewis (Not Cape Fear young, a bit after that), is Katniss Everdeen, a tomboyish hunter stuck way out in District 12 (looks like Nebraska) scraping a living for her younger sister and mother. When her sister is selected for The 74th annual Hunger Games, an X-factor style show with less tears where 24 kids go into an arena and only one emerges, Katniss volunteers to take her place to save her. Her sister being well, less tomboyish.
Exposition is kept to a few lines that function as the titles and a brief, public information film voiceover from President Snow. Everything else about future America is revealed piecemeal, this is relatively complex world building here and it works well enough, although it did lead to this reviewer briefly believing that although the human race was still semi-reliant on coal, it had mastered the tricky craft of creating dogs out of nothing.
The targets are big but the aim is true. The Hunger Games effectively lampoons reality television. There is nothing of the scabrous wit or dark comedy of Network here, just a gentle but firm aura of disapproval of those running the game and those enjoying the broadcasts, but not, interestingly of several people who work for the show who must be as part of the problem as anyone. Both Cinna (Lenny Kravitz, looking normal) as a stylist and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, looking quite normal), a former winner, are off the hook for taking company money as they are presented sympathetically. Haymitch is almost the comic relief in a po-faced film played in no way for laughs. Seneca (Wes “dancing bag” Bentley, looking bearded and insane) and Caeser (Stanley Tucci, Oh my god) as producer and presenter respectively get the bad guy roles and thoroughly enjoy them, camping up the Roman angle to a sneeringly, obtuse level. The main evil in The Hunger Games, however, belongs to President Snow (Donald Sutherland, looking like a poodle pilgrim) who seems to spend an absurd amount of time bothering with a television show when, presumably, he also has a fragmented, two tier society to oversee.
By the time the clever ending (a highlight, with a nod to A Clockwork Orange) comes around the persuasive acting of the leads and the immersive structure of this particular future have won out over the nagging issues and overlong running time to provide a decently entertaining few hours with enough surprises to make even the most hardened sci-fi fans interest a little piqued. So, we’re left with a smart, well made, driven, action film that isn’t making as big a point as the pile of money it’s rolling around in. We can’t help thinking that teens killing each other in an arena has been done better before………BATTLE ROYALE, BATTLE ROYALE, BATTLE ROYALE. Sorry. Fear the sequels.