The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012)

What's it about? In a futuristic dystopian world ruled by a totalitarian state, 'The Hunger Games' is an annual TV reality show in which 24 teenagers are selected from the poor districts of the state and brought to the wealthy Capitol to fight to the death in a survival contest. Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) is amongst the latest batch of teenagers to compete. Has she got what it takes to survive?

Is it any good? Much has been made of the fact we've seen this type of thing before in other films, books, song and legend (more of that below), but I rather liked this teen take on the subject, which delivers an entertaining balance between the sci-fi, teen romance, action and satirical elements in telling its story. (I've not read any of the books in the Hunger Games Trilogy, because I'm not a teenage girl, but apparently they are amazeballs and totes emosh and this is a faithful adaptation of the first in the series. Apparently.) Anyway, there's a horrible plausibility about the concept of the Games, which is only a slightly exaggerated version of what passes for reality TV gameshows at present. From the sinister manipulations of the media to the celebrity mentors to the ghastly presenters treating it all as light entertainment, it doesn't seem too much of a stretch to suggest this is exactly the sort of thing people would watch if it were real. After all, people watch Davina McCall and that grinning hag is more horrible than any number of child deaths. Filling these roles, there's enjoyable input from Donald Sutherland, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Wes Bentley and - holy shit! - Lenny Kravitz, of all people.
Jennifer Lawrence. A Lovely Girl.

But the real strength of the film is a star turn at the center from Jennifer Lawrence, who delivers a strong action heroine who manages to be resourceful and tough and feminine at the same time. In the scenes in which Katniss finds herself seduced by the lavish glamour of the media circus surrounding the games, she reveals a girlish vulnerability which is utterly convincing, whilst she handles the action with no less aplomb once the Games begin. It's the type of female performance we see too rarely in blockbusters and proof that Oscar nomination for Winter's Bone was no fluke. As a role model for teenage girls, Katniss certainly beats the shit out of the sappy Bella from Twilight so far. Let's hope she doesn't get too side-tracked by the love triangle set-up which is hinted at throughout the film. Anyway, the film is not without a few mis-steps. There's a couple of silly moments (those dogs? How exactly did they appear?), the Game itself is rather less tense than I would have liked, and it misses a chance to really say something new about the phenomenon of reality TV. Having said that, it's thoroughly entertaining and good to see a blockbuster aimed primarily at teenagers tackle such a topic. I'll happily sit down to the sequel, Catching Fire, which is due out next year.

Anything else I should know? Let's play our own game. It's called 'Other Things that The Hunger Games is Like'. Ready! Go! Well, first off, extreme-violence-as-TV-gameshow-entertainment has been covered in films like Rollerball, The Running Man, Series 7: The Contenders and Death Race 2000 to name but a few. And who could forget the magnificence of TV shows like It's a Knockout and Gladiators, in which we laughed as people got hurt. But children killing each other for entertainment has been done too, in the Japanese film Battle Royale which has essentially the same plot as The Hunger Games, prompting howls of outrage from Battle Royale fans who felt The Hunger Games softened the satirical edge in favour of Twilight-esque teen romance. But then there are also books like Shirley Jackson's short story The Lottery, Stephen King's The Long Walk, sci-fi classic Ender's Game and Lord of the Flies, so who's copying who here? Of course, all of these are trumped by the fact that Suzane Collins, who wrote the Hunger Games trilogy, says she got her inspiration from the Ancient Greek legend of Theseus and the Minotaur, which, last time I looked, was in existence long before the films and books mentioned above. Anyhow, since it seems customary in reviews of this film to summarise it as a mash-up of things The Hunger Games is like, so I'm going with The Running TruMan Show starring SpartaKatniss. Yeah. I'd buy that for a dollar!

What does the Fonz think? May the thumb forever be in your favour.

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