The Hunger Games is a box office phenomenon: it had the highest non-sequel opening weekend ($151m), and this was outside peak season, and is independently produced by Lionsgate. Like the Twilight series (2008-12) an indie company has hit upon a franchise that Hollywood would die for. Summit Entertainment, which produced Twilight, is now owned by Lionsgate. However, these are certainly not independent films in their production values or their sensibility. We expect something outside the mainstream from the independents.
The Hunger Games had a lot of potential in offering an acerbic view of the vacuity of celebrity culture, in its representation of the inhabitants of the capital, and Stanley Tucci’s turn as the creepy chat show host Caesar Flickerman is spot on. In addition, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch of the imagination to consider the inhabitants of the capital as the bourgeoisie living off the sweat of the workers in the districts. These points lurk too far in the background.
More damagingly (in the sense that it would have been a more interesting picture) is the desire for a 12A certificate (some footage was cut to gain this family-friendly certificate) has eradicated any visceral representation of the violence. The result of this is that we never get a real sense of the viciousness involved in survival. In addition, the morality of ‘kill or be killed’ is skipped over; for example, the heroine Everdeen never has to face the dilemma of the necessity of killing her friend, Rue. Maybe I’m being over-picky, after all the source material is a teen novel.
Everdeen is played by the sensational Jennifer Lawrence who made such an impact in Winter’s Bone. She’s a charismatic actor with a face that seems to change depending upon what angle it’s being filmed from. She carries the film beautifully. Other pluses are Brian Baker’s set design and the costumes are also terrific. However I found Gary Ross’ direction a real distraction, particular in the early part of the narrative where he mimicked the whip-pans and shaky montages that accompany many ‘reality TV’ programmes. While the hunger games are such a programme it’s not necessary to copy their style. The shaky frame obscured much in the mise en scene, which was a pity because the settings were superbly done.
I prefer the similarly themed Battale Royale (Japan, 2000) and Series 7: The Contenders (US, 2001).