The Hunger Games ★★½

Unlike most reviews I’m going to try and not mention Battle Royale (that doesn’t count) during this review because that film was not the first to explore this concept and The Hunger Games will not be the last. The film has strongly divided opinion (no doubt the record breaking box office has increased expectations for the movie) but I sit somewhere in the middle.

It is tough knowing how to judge a film like this; do you compare it to films in general or other cash-in Young Adult fiction movie adaptations? If it is the former then The Hunger Games comes up a little short. The cast were perfectly decent and Jennifer Lawrence provides some class when traditionally teenage leads are pretty and little else. The special effects show up the film’s relatively meagre budget but hardly detract from the overall experience and I actually didn’t mind the shaky-cam cinematography as it suited the story and neatly sidestepped showing too much in order to meet classification. The problem lies in the film’s balance, or lack thereof. It takes far too long to get to the games themselves and much of the city-based exposition is actually needless padding. Despite spending an age setting up the rules of the game, the mentors and the politics of Capitol City the meat of the drama is actually left at the sidelines.

Because it is during the pre-Games sections that the film should have explored and developed the characters yet it is only the two leads that are afforded any such luxury. It means that when the Games do begin they lack the emotional impact and moral quandaries that should be inherent in a concept such as this. Now maybe they reduced the other participants to mere expendable meat because it would traumatise a young audience if there was some emotional investment during these sequences, but whatever the reason the decision to make them characterless cannon fodder makes the Games themselves inert and free of genuine drama.

Yet, despite this significant failing the film did keep me reasonably entertained. I felt invested in Katniss as a character and the city-based menagerie of adults were colourful and entertaining enough to make sure the early sections weren’t completely pointless. The main reason why I have little reason to be offended by the film though is the fact it is significantly better than much of its direct competition. Compare it to other franchise adaptations (I Am Number Four and Percy Jackson perhaps being good examples) and it is by far the better film both in concept and execution. Is The Hunger Games going to trouble any serious ‘best of’ lists come the end of the year? Not a chance, but it also isn’t quite the cynical and worthless YA movie that we normally have to contend with each and every year.

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