The Hunger Games
Adaptation that successfully transcends its teen-fiction origins, with excellent cast and direction
A dystopian thriller with cross-generational appeal, The Hunger Games is an adaptation of the first novel in Suzanne Collins’ trilogy. From writer and director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) and co-written by Collins herself, it’s set in Panem, a post-apocalyptic dictatorship which has emerged from the ruins of North America. As punishment for a decades-old uprising, the ruling classes stage an annual competition - the titular ‘Hunger Games’ - whereby a boy and girl from each district take part in a televised battle to the death, with a single surviving victor (tagline: ‘May the odds be ever in your favour’).
Jennifer Lawrence (in plucky Winter’s Bone mode) plays the nonsensically monikered Katniss Everdeen, a resident of the impoverished District 12. When her younger sister is selected for the 74th games Katniss takes her place and joins 23 other ‘tributes’ - including love interest Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) - in a wooded arena of death, complete with genetically engineered wasps and remote-controlled fireballs. Donald Sutherland appears as the callous and contained President, Woody Harrelson is a frazzled former victor whose first piece of advice is, ‘Embrace the probability of your imminent death’, while Stanley Tucci plays a vigorously vile talk show host.
Katniss’ stability threatening heroism recalls both Rollerball and The Running Man but the film The Hunger Games most bears comparison to is Battle Royale, albeit without the ultra-violence and transgressive fervour. Ross keeps things rigorously moral and (just about) family friendly, with violence often edited out of recognition. He employs probing, anxious camerawork throughout and skilfully balances broad-brush satire with a sensitivity to character. His deft direction and the superior cast mean that The Hunger Games largely transcends its teen-fiction origins to prove itself more than a money spinner. The odds are certainly in its favour.
General release from Fri 23 Mar.