The school playground is going to be a heated arena in the coming weeks and months, what with the long running debate shortly coming to a close when The Avengers Assemble reaches cinemas of who would win in a fight between the likes of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America. But first up, another literary smackdown of a different kind. Stephenie Meyer Vs. Suzanne Collins. Bella Swan Vs. Katniss Everdeen. Twilight Vs. The Hunger Games. The comparisons between the Twilight franchise and Gary Ross’s highly anticipated adaptation of the smash-hit post-apocalyptic novel were about as predictable as the “Twihards” getting all flustered with the new competition in town.
However this is an animal of a different nature. Let’s face it: the premise has more similarities that run in line with the likes of Kinji Fukasaku’s cult classic Battle Royale and Paul Michael Glaser’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Running Man. Set in a utopian future where North America is desolate and the country of Panem holds 12 districts within the Capitol. Those who have wealth and power reside in the Capitol. Those that don’t, have to survive within their own district whether it would be bargaining, begging or hunting. Survival is a running theme throughout proceedings. At one point, one of the main leads bluntly responds to another, “There’s 24 of us, only 1 comes out.” Each year, one boy and one girl are selected at random to represent their district and take part in the annual Hunger Games – a televised fight to the death broadcasted live to Panem residents in which participants are pitted against one another with only a sole surivior crowned victorious.
This year, youngster Primrose Everdeen is selected to represent District 12 in the 74th Annual Hunger Games. However, for the first time, a volunteer demands to take her place, the novel’s headstrong heroin, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). Facing off against Josh Hutcherson’s Peeta Mellark, the pair are sent on their way to the Capitol to be trained, groomed and mentored by the eccentric Effie Trinketv (Elizabeth Banks), previous survivor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz).
When disembarking onto the Capitol this is arguably where The Hunger Games is at its finest. The cinematography, the editing, the all-round build up to the games themselves are handled brilliantly by director Gary Ross. The Seabiscuit director not only orchestrates a near perfect transition from book to screen but creates a world, a story and a set of character that would work as a standalone project and not just an adaptation of a novel. He is also not shy when expressing scenes of violence and brutality even for a 12A certificate. In the arena, necks are broken, bodies are savaged by animals, chests are pierced by sharp weapons, Ross has no fear in going in head first with handheld cameras during such moments and not deter young audiences. He has successfully managed to develop a young but also mature novel and remain true to the source material.
In a film full of high points, the biggest kudos moment goes to Jennifer Lawrence. After a stunning Oscar nominated performance in the Indie drama Winters Bone, Lawrence uses the similar survival instincts in the role of Katniss. We see her in the opening moment trekking across the rural landscapes of District 12 and who has a sharp eye when hunting with her bow and arrow. In the build-up to the games and in the actual arena, she is considered to be the underdog, and as everyone knows, every dog has their day.
The other cast members give sublime bit-parts. Harrelson could have played the alcoholic survivor in his sleep. Banks steps outside of her usual trend playing with audience’s funny bone and gives the film it’s light hearted moments. But it’s Stanley Tucci that really stands out as the vibrant and camp presenter, Caesar Flickerman.
The only disappointing fault in the Hunger Games are the certain stereotypical participants who face off against one another. You have the cocky, violent bruiser, the sheepish, hesitant one and of course the betraying backstabber. To differentiate between the people taking part is all well and good but at least think outside the box.
Let’s just hope the kids don’t take this particular “Who’d win in a fit between” debate – they’ll be anarchy in the schoolyard otherwise.