Billy's Film Reviews.

A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!

The Hunger Games & Catching Fire – 2012 & 2013

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 1.38.43 amPrejudice is something that goes hand in hand with the public and certain trends. An entirely subjective concept, ‘judging a book by it’s cover’, is something we can all admit to doing at least once in our lives. We are influenced by those around us, we follow trends, whilst stubbornly refuse to give something a go based on bias and pride alone, all at the same time.
Open-mindedness can go a long way, and can lead to some surprisingly enjoyable revelations. Heavily influenced by the growing trend of novel-film adaptations, scepticism and prejudice got the better of me initially when concerning “The Hunger Games”, but now, after watching both releases, I can say that these are two very, very good films. 

We all know the premise; dystopian future with obvious division, tyrannical government and combative contests that see teens fight to the death on an annual basis. Our hero is unlike the others, she is special and changes everything as soon as she enters the limelight. Blah blah blah!
Synopsis aside, it’s nothing we haven’t seen or heard before – cliches are everywhere in these films, but that’s not a bad thing, all things considered.

the-hunger-games-image08“The Hunger Games” is a solid first instalment. It establishes time, place and crucial plot points quite well, without overdoing the exposition like “The Maze Runner” did for example. We feel immediate sympathy for the protagonist and those close to her which is one of the film’s stronger qualities.
Katniss Everdeen, played by “the average, down-to-earth girl just like yourself” (Jennifer Lawrence), loves her family, so much so that she sacrifices herself and volunteers to partake in “The Games” to save her younger sister. Shocking the authorities with every move, Katniss becomes increasingly noticed and popular amongst the jurisdiction. This becomes with a blessing and a curse for the poor, stubborn average, down-to earth girl, just like yourself. 

The games themselves are very straightforward. Placed in a constructed environment, teens from are forced to face off, killing and surviving in brutal and desperate fashion until one is left standing. An atrocious and cynical societal tradition, the malevolent higher powers are able to literally play God as they control the area, changing environments and circumstances as they so wish.
Bonds are made, and are just as easily broken, while various twists and turns ensue as these frightened youths polish each other off, one by one. 

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? If you read the previous paragraph to Quentin Tarantino, he would most likely respond by saying “Yeah, that’s my favourite movie of all time!”.
No, this is not Tarantino’s all time favourite flick; 2000’s “Battle Royale” is.
Kinji Fukasaku’s brutal drama from the turn of the century has obviously been a major influence for this book series, but again, it’s not a major plagiaristic crime; there are both heavy similarities and heavy differences between the two. If you want to see where a lot of “Hunger Games” ideas came from though, check this out.
“The Hunger Games” to me is more or less “Battle Royale” but ‘Americanised.’

The_Hunger_Games_Catching_Fire_40430If there is a cinematic technique that can be overused to the point of uncontrollable dizzy spells and light-headedness ensuing, it’s the shaky-cam technique.
Sadly, “The Hunger Games” uses this method to death, and it really makes the viewing experience uncomfortable on the eyes. Gary Ross’ departure as director and Francis Lawrence’s introduction result in fantastic adjustments to the overall ‘look’ of the follow up flick, and boy, it makes a huge difference (no shaky cam in “Catching Fire”, phew!)

2013’s “Catching Fire” is a continuation of the original but also a radical departure at the same time. The set pieces are smoother, the continuity is better, the structure is more fluid and the film overall is much, much better. Things take a turn for the darker in “Catching Fire”, and by dark, I mean quite dark.
The evil governing body known as “Capitol” has taken a relentless, ruthless stronghold on the citizens, leaving no room for mercy or freedom. In some very intense scenes, the dark themes and imagery become almost Nazi-like as troops storm through Ghetto-like towns, barraging and murdering at the first glimpse of retaliation.
The theme of corruption and societal division is expressed in a more successful manner with “Catching Fire”, and it’s quite powerful stuff. Katniss once again finds herself struggling against circumstances out of her control, but uses the passion and determination she gained in “The Hunger Games” to survive and find a way to rebel against the higher powers. 

hunger_aThese two films are completely star-studded from head to tail.
Names such as Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bently, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Toby Jones, Josh Hutchinson and Jeffrey Wright join Lawrence with brilliant performances that make the films what they are.
To assemble these names successfully is one thing, but to utilise them uniquely and equally is something rather impressive!
Sure, there are some like Tony Jones who are in my opinion underused, but to have him there, smashing out another great performance is good enough for me!

The two films surprisingly say an awful lot about life in general. There is the underlying theme of family love, but themes of survival, instinct, politics, fashion, media, manipulation, appearance, fame, fortune, celebrity, success, death, corruption, warfare, regime, uprising, trust, mistrust, sacrifice, conformity, division, change and authority come to play in almost every scene.
I could name more themes but we’d be here for far too long. Ultimately, these films have a lot to say about the world we have lived in, the we are living in and the world we could one day inhabit.

With two more films on the way made up of the singular third book, I have my doubts regarding the quality of production we’ll be receiving with “Mockingjay: Part 1”, however, leading into it, I must say I’m impressed by the first two instalments.
I can understand why this franchise is as popular as it is, especially when compared to the rest of the dystopian teen-drama franchises out there. The choice to split the final chapter into two parts was inevitable, so as much as I personally disagree with it, there’s no point in complaining. We just need to accept it unfortunately. 

hg-4What these films were particularly good at achieving was a sense of interest and attachment to story from it’s audience. I found myself genuinely caring about what was happening and not being mindlessly occupied for hours on end like the qualities of some films of the same genre.
The character of Katniss is not an ideal protagonist, but her differences, her reluctance and eventual bravery make her a solid character that is fleshed out very well. There are certain characters I wanted to see more of, but overall, the development of central players was commendable. 

Above all, it must be stressed that I was not going to bother with the latest “Hunger Games” release. It was only after some persistence from those close to me that I sat down and watched the first two films.
It must also be stressed just how much I enjoyed them, particularly “Catching Fire”.
The cast is exceptional, the scores are solid, the foundation is strong in each, but above all, I can definitely say that these films deserve a chance.
I’m talking to those sceptics who are too stubborn and ‘cool’ for these trashy teen-dramas. You can’t criticise something so passionately without seeing it for yourself. Who knows, just like me, you may find yourself becoming rather impressed and surprised…


The Hunger Games – 3.5/5

Catching Fire – 4/5

Recommended by Alise Dolly & Emily Ryan

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