My teenage daughter has been telling me about The Hunger Games books for quite some time. I admit that I thought the concept was a bit gory - teens selected to enter a fight-to-the-death tournament in front of the world. We had a Spanish student with us last week and it seems that the books are a global phenomenon as he too was aware of the stories. And he wanted to visit a British cinema.
So Friday evening - the first day of general release - and at the late show as the earlier shows were fully booked we went along to our local cinema in Richmond. We watched hoards of young girls pour out of the cinema as we waited for our pop corn along with the couples and somewhat older audience. I was hoping very much that I didn't fall asleep during the film - my son has never quite forgiven me for missing "The Lord of the Rings".
After the trailers ('Snow White and the Huntsman' looks good - although I'm a bit confused as 'Mirror Mirror' is being advertised heavily - are we to expect two Snow White films soon?, 'Cabin in the woods' looks scary and 'Avengers assemble' is bound to delight the action film fans) the main feature commenced.
Katniss (played by Jennifer Lawrence - and I thought at first that she was the same actress as in Narnia) is the heroine and we see her hunting in the forest to feed her family before a romantic moment with Seneca. Then her younger sister Primrose is chosen as the female from district 12 and Katniss volunteers to go along in her place along with Peeta (played by Josh Hutcherson).
The scenery as they travel to and arrive in Capitol is excellent and Donald Sutherland is impressive as President Snow. The outrageous, rich costumes of the people in Capitol are all reminiscent of Vivienne Westwood. I'm liking the gold eye liner - especially on the guys.
And then we are into reality TV land - there's an outrageous presenter with purple hair - Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) and the 24 contestants have to dress up to impress the wealthy audience in order to win sponsors. The mentor for Kat and Peeta apperas to be a bit of a waster. They start their training and are paraded in front of dignitaries. It feels uncomfortably like one of those Saturday night talent shows.
There is genuine tension as the games commence and straight away there are some deaths. But with a 12A certificate we are spared any real gore and violence - much to my daughter's indignation. It is brutal. There's genuine anger as the games organisers add in extra problems for the kids battling for survival in the forest - fires, wasps, poisonous berries and lures.
As well as the hints of gladiators who fight to the death to please rich Romans there is also a political angle as the wealthy in Capitol keep those in the districts poor, hungry and living in fear of their youngsters being selected by the lottery for the games. I hear my daughter sniffling as one of the young tributes is killed.
There are twists and turns in the story - some further surprises for the tributes - and a gripping finale. Whilst the film is long (my friend had to leave before the end in order not to miss her train back to London) it did keep me absorbed. My daughter thought it was amazing and the Spanish student vowed to read the books on his return. However, I'm told that the second book in the series doesn't have a return to the games (that's in book 3) so I'm not quite sure how they will do an action fuelled part 2.