The Hunger Games: the next big thing

MARGARET AGNEW
Last updated 10:30 25/03/2012
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GAME ON: Margaret Agnew reviews The Hunger Games.

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REVIEW: THE HUNGER GAMES (M) directed by Gary Ross, reviewed by Margaret Agnew.

The Hunger Games has been hyped as the next big film franchise to hit the teen demographic. Thankfully, this time, the series of books this film adaptation is based on is actually bloody good.

The word ''bloody'' is not used frivolously. In Suzanne Collins' bestselling young-adult novel and this mostly faithful film adaptation, the Hunger Games of the title is a vicious televised annual reality entertainment that demands 24 randomly selected teenagers fight to the death in a manipulated environment, with only one survivor-victor allowed.

Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), is a self-sufficient 16-year-old who has had to become a proficient hunter to feed her younger sister and grieving mother since dad died down the coalmines. Coal is the main industry of downtrodden District 12, one of the 12 territories essentially enslaved by the government after a failed uprising of Panem.

The film-makers have depicted District 12 as a sort of Depression-era coal-mining town, in stark contrast with the shiny, decadent, ultra-modern Capitol, where Katniss and her fellow District 12 tribute, Peeta (a badly blonded, soft-eyed Josh Hutcherson), are paraded before the cheering crowds, styled to the hilt, tested and interviewed before the Hunger Games begin.

There are lots of differences and tweaks to the original plot, which may annoy purists. Several characters are either cut entirely or barely introduced before they're gone, but the cuts make sense in the broad-brushstroke world of film.

One of the interesting things in this adaptation is the small glimpses of what's going on behind the scenes in Panem while the Hunger Games are on in the second half of the 142-minute film. It's here that we see the game-maker (Wes Bentley) having to answer to sinister President Snow (Donald  Sutherland) about his every manipulation. We also get a glimpse of the drunken and incompetent (or is he?) District 12 mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) as he works on Katniss's behalf.

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The book is written strictly from the perspective of Katniss, but on screen we get to see the impact of her unfolding televised love story with Peeta on her best  male  friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), back in District 12.

Rising star Jennifer Lawrence looks good as a brunette, if a little too sturdy for a girl who supplements her family's meagre diet by hunting  game illegally. Likewise, Gale and Peeta are a tad too buff and bronzed.

Elizabeth Banks, as the frivolous human paintbox Effie Trinket, is well cast, almost as well as Harrelson as the jaded Haymitch and Lenny Kravitz, in gold-eyeliner, as the lovable Cinna who has to win over Katniss and the audience in a very short time.

Stanley Tucci and a barely there Toby Jones round out the cast, with a series of young actors playing the other tributes to touching, tough and intimidating effect, as required of their characters.

As a standalone film, the story may prove confusing to newcomers. It certainly helps if you're familiar with the book, which is the first part of a trilogy. The film-makers seem to be counting on the fact that much of the audience is likely to have read the story first. While not as moving or as brutal as the book, this competent film ensures that this is definitely not the last we'll see of Katniss feeling conflicted about killing on the big screen.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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