I went to see The Hunger Games on Friday, at the Harrogate Odeon. Don’t go to the cinema very much, so it was a real treat.

What a cracking film – really enjoyed it.

The premise is that there is a brave new world order, with a ruling class and a lower class. The ruling class live in a hi-tech city and generally the lap of luxury. The ruled class live in ghettos (called Districts), growing crops, mining, generally eeking out an existance. Around 70 years before the start of the film, twelve of the districts rebelled. This rebellion was quashed, but the resultant “peace treaty” requires each of the twelve districts to provide a teenage boy and a teenage girl as a “tribute” to play the Hunger Games each year.

The Hunger Games involve these 24 young people fighting to the death, potentially aided by sponsers, live on TV. The Games take place in a large (several square miles) artifical forest called the Arena, and the weapons are blade and bow – although there are also pressure mines.

Analogies have been drawn with The Running Man, Lord of the Flies, and Battle Royale – not sure that the first two really hold water, but I haven’t seen Battle Royale so can’t comment there.

I’ll get the irritations out the way first. The camera work is horrible. Clever, but horrible. It’s almost entirely hand-held, and jiggers around a lot – think Blair Witch. A lot of the time it’s almost impossible to see what’s actually going on. It is semi-first person, in that it reflects what the person is experiencing – so if they’re hallucinating, everything’s going in and out of focus for instance. I did like that the soundtrack went ‘deaf’ after a paticularly big explosion though.

I should also add that this film isn’t actually about the fighting – the section in the arena is less than half the film, probably less than a third. Where 2 or more tributes do fight, it’s generally over in a few seconds.

Rather, this is very much the story of Katniss – how she ended up in, and surviving, the Hunger Games. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say she’s still alive at the end (sorry if it was). In fact, the film is much more about social commentary for me, at societal and individual levels. How the different participants respond to this situation – kill or be killed. How the wider society deals with putting teenagers into this situation, either by ‘allowing’ them to be taken, or by taking them and training them. One poignant moment for me is when one of the characters reflects on not wanting to be turned into someone he’s not – even if he dies in the Games, that he’s still “him” when he dies.

One the Games start, there also quickly emerges two camps – those who are hunting down the other tributes, and actively killing them, and those who are running and hiding, and kill out of the self-defence/reflex (or possibly compassion). Of course, Katniss is in this second catgeory, and it enables her to win the games while preserving her moral core.

The acting is superb across the board, and very well casted. It’s been said before, but Jennifer Lawrence is awesome. She’s obvious drop dead gorgeous, which always helps, but she acts beautifully. I’ve not read the books yet, or seen her in anything else, but she is so sympathic as the lead. Her self-doubt, confidence, fear, bravery, pain, humour shine through. The violence is ‘airbushed’ out – there is almost no blood and guts, which on the one hand I like, but on the other hand dimishes the atrocity of the situation. The “kills” are all very easy – slash of the sword and the chap’s lying dead on the ground. There is a certain amount of discomfort in being turned into a consumer of the Hunger Games ourselves.

The before and after are also superbly filmed, I presume, on location. The ending is particularly interesting, as it’s very open-ended. Plenty of seeds are sown as to what’s to come, although it’s hard to imagine anything other than a full reform of society, with Katniss as Bodecia (not quite the right analogy, but you get my drift).

Final note – was very interested in the demographic of the audience, which was almost entirely 15 year old girls. I was a little surprised by this.. Ok, it does have a female lead, but it’s not a click-flick. That said, it seemed half of said young ladies where North American, and half sounded European (couldn’t quite catch the accent), so perhaps it was an arranged trip.

Final verdict – go see!