The Hunger Games
Direction: Gary Ross
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson
The past decade has witnessed the rise of tweenagers as a significant audience contributing to the success of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and Twilight series.
Adapted from the first of three wildly-popular young-adult novels by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games taps into themes — courage in the face of adversity; struggle against oppressive regimes — with strong appeal for older viewers as well.
Cannily maintaining our involvement throughout its two hours and 20 minutes runtime, the post-apocalyptic thriller has us root for the resourceful young heroine in her fight for survival.
The fatherless girl (Lawrence) hunts and barters for food for her mother and fragile younger sister. Living in abject poverty in the coal-mining district of a dystopian nation, she clings to the one chance of hope by volunteering for the titular winner-take-all competition.
Every year, children from the ages of 12 to 18 are pitted against each other in an elaborately-controlled arena until there’s only one of them left standing. The fight-to-the-death conflict is broadcast live on television.
The Roman satirist Juvenal’s formulation, nearly two millennia ago, that bread and spectacle are all it takes to appease the populace, still resonates. The popularity of reality TV shows suggests that we haven’t come far from the ancient Coliseum era.
Aided by the sumptuous photography by Clint Eastwood’s regular collaborator, Tom Stern, as well as dazzling production values, director Ross (Seabiscuit) delivers large-scale excitement.
The first hour or so is especially splendid. Once the games kick off, the narrative does tend to lose momentum. The courtship with a fellow fighter (Hutcherson) is more cloying than convincing. On the other hand, the brief encounter with a pint-sized African-American girl packs an emotional punch.
Oscar-nominated Jennifer Lawrence (Winter’s Bone, 2010) brings heartbreaking soul to her character’s transformation from underdog to a symbol of revolt. Woody Harrelson as the alcoholic mentor and Elizabeth Banks as an outlandish escort are in fine fettle.
While the hideously coiffured Stanley Tucci provides some comic relief in the role of the talk-show host, old-timer Donald Sutherland is understatedly menacing as the president.
May the odds ever be in favour of The Hunger Games becoming a blockbuster new franchise.