The Hunger Games review

Banana Rating: 3 out of 5

Psst! Don’t men­tion Battle Roy­ale. Too late! I men­tioned it. Nov­el­ist Suz­anne Collins is on record as say­ing that she’d never heard of the Battle Roy­ale book, or it’s author before sub­mit­ting her manu­script. I’ll admit I haven’t read either book, and only have the movie adapt­a­tion of Battle Roy­ale to com­pare. It’s true that both stor­ies fea­ture an oddball future where chil­dren are put to war against each other, to send a mes­sage to the masses. Both in a forest. And both with whatever weapon they end up with in the ensu­ing battle. Deaths are announced as they hap­pen. There are many similarities.

Battle Roy­ale, a great movie, isn’t per­fect. And there are a few dif­fer­ences in the way The Hun­ger Games is told. After all, films where thugs, inno­cent people, sol­diers or who­ever are placed into a high pres­sure situ­ation and forced to kill each other for enter­tain­ment is noth­ing new. It’s in films like The Run­ning Man, The Con­demned, Series 7: The Con­tenders, and prob­ably even a few oth­ers I’ve missed. Way back in 1969, Peter Watkins made a film called The Gla­di­at­ors, where war has been reduced to coun­tries field­ing hand-picked teams to fight it out in the “inter­na­tional peace games” as a safer way than nuc­lear war­fare to settle disputes.

So really, it’s not like this sort of film is get­ting released every other week. If we can have a mil­lion movies where a wronged cop goes after the mafia king­pin who slaughtered his fam­ily, I’d say there’s prob­ably room for both Battle Roy­aleand The Hun­ger Games. Even though I’m not con­vinced that Suz­anne Collins is telling the com­plete truth, I’m will­ing to give her the bene­fit of the doubt.

Inoffensively enjoyable

So, is the film actu­ally any good? Well, it’s inof­fens­ively enjoy­able. Now, I’m not sure that’s how I should feel about a film where kids are picked at ran­dom and made to slaughter each other. It’s not really a sub­ject that should while away a pleas­ant Sunday after­noon. I think it’s down to the film being a little gut­less, and show­ing very small amounts of blood, with most deaths hap­pen­ing just off-screen or in con­veni­ently placed shad­ows. I’m guess­ing the book could get away with show­ing a bit more gore.

But do I want to see teen­agers get­ting hacked to pieces in graphic detail? No, not really. But if your story hinges exclus­ively on a con­test where teen­agers are killing each other, and it’s air-brushed for a fam­ily friendly audi­ence, then it’s dis­turb­ing for the wrong reasons.

Dis­turb­ing not because I’m hor­ri­fied by what these kids have to go through, but because I can hear the cash tills ringing as a sci­ence fic­tion fran­chise wheezes into life. One whose sub­ject has been made blander, and safer, to get more bums on seats. In some ways, I can under­stand. The tar­get audi­ence — chiefly the teen­agers who’ve read the book — would be frozen out of their own film if it was too extreme. I can’t ima­gine the suits in Hol­ly­wood los­ing much sleep over more ticket sales, how­ever. The decision to play it safe must’ve been a no-brainer.

Squirrels for supper

Hav­ing said that, I’m quite impressed with how earn­est some of these films based on young adult nov­els are. The Hun­ger Games is no excep­tion. At times, it may seem over­wrought and humour­less, but some of Hollywood’s big block­busters for the older gen­er­a­tion are pos­it­ively inane in com­par­ison, con­cerned as they are with noth­ing but spectacle.

How­ever, there’s still some­thing rather aver­age about the whole thing. Thank­fully, it has Jen­nifer Lawrence at its centre. She doesn’t have to do a lot. For the second half of the movie she’s just run­ning through a forest, sleep­ing up trees, and catch­ing squir­rels for her supper.

But this is Jen­nifer Lawrence. Such is the mes­mer­ising qual­ity of that big, soul­ful face, I’m quite happy to watch a couple of hours of Jen­nifer Lawrence just run­ning through a forest, sleep­ing up trees, and catch­ing squir­rels for her sup­per. Her beguil­ing pres­ence pulls the film above average.

Where The Hun­ger Games scores points over Battle Roy­ale is the tease of two fur­ther sequels in a planned tri­logy. Battle Roy­ale is a great film. Battle Roy­ale 2is ter­rible. So there’s a chance if the sequels deliver on story (if not bravery in the depic­tion of its bru­tal games), then it may sur­pass the movie it’s been accused of rip­ping off.