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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Hunger Games (2012)

It makes the news when a film manages to make 155 million dollars Stateside in its first three days of release, which makes the opening for the above movie the third highest gross ever.  So, we may ask, what kind of fantastic film spins gold so readily?  Believe you me, I am stymied to give you a rational answer to this question.


Through a series of circumstances rather than active planning or desire, we found ourselves at the 2pm showing of this movie on Saturday afternoon, along with a crowded cinema of noisy teenagers and a fair sprinkling of much younger children accompanied by a token adult.  Reader, they seemed to lap it up and this scenario was duplicated, I understand, world-wide.  So we have something of a phenomenon to unravel.  To say that this film is better than the soppy "Twilight" series beloved by its legions of fans is to damn it with faint praise.  Yes, it has more meat on its bones than that saga of teen angst, yet there is probably insufficient substance to nourish the adult appetite.


Apparently this ever-so-long flick is fairly faithful to the book, the first of a trilogy from writer Suzanne Collins, who also had a firm hand in the screenplay.  That leaves two follow-up films to come and indications are that both the writer and the studio have unleashed a goldmine. The story has been sufficiently hyped to be well-known: In a post-apocalyptic America the workers (or drones) have been herded into twelve enclosed districts to support the decadent life-style of the Capital city, whose denizens dress and act in sybaritic splendour.  These districts are portrayed as grey and undernourished slums, like something out of Depression-era black and white photos, and they hardly seem large or vital enough to support the fat cats of the city-state.  Each year there is a 'reaping' in these regions to choose a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 as 'tributes' to be brought to a large wooded arena in the capital to flight to the death, a modern-day Coliseum of bread and circuses.  While the viewer is given some gobbledegook as to the reasoning behind these games which have been held for yonks, there is no clear reason why twenty-three youngsters should be sacrificed each year to keep the nation in thrall as they watch the televised slaughter.


The heroine of this saga is strongly embodied in Jennifer Lawrence, still in her hillbilly heroine mode from "Winter's Bone". There is never any doubt that, as the lead player, she will be the ultimate survivor, although the rules are changed midstream to a possible second survivor to play up the would-be 'romance' between her character, Katniss, and her area's second tribute, Peeta the baker's son (a somewhat more feeble Josh Hutcherson). Even the character names both locally and in the city suggest a parallel world to ours and one that is both foreign to us and hard to comprehend.  With her survivalist skills and her fearsome bow and arrow, Katniss is possibly an admirable role model for teen-aged girls, that is if one wants to encourage them in the way of the warrior, as it were. The cream of the supporting cast is reserved for the bizarrely dressed and made-up 'patricians': Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones as lavishly coiffed M.C.s, an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks as an androgynous liaison, Donald Sutherland as the chief tyrant, an ornately bearded Wes Bentley (where has he been in recent memory?) as the games organizer, and a very good Woody Harrelson as the pair's laid-back mentor who glams them up for the audience to obtain the necessary sponsorship.


This business of youngsters killing each other for their own survival was handled more graphically in the Japanese "Battle Royale", and in keeping with this film's certification, scenes of horror and blood-letting are mitigated by fast-cutting and a shaky camera.  Most of the massacre is a bit of a blur! This first movie avoids the philosophical questions that need to be answered -- perhaps the next two films will deal with them more fully.  There is far too much emphasis on the 'hunt' rather than any real rebellion against a corrupt system.  The film-makers avoid developing the characters as rounded human beings or focusing on the real conflict between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. They prefer to give us an example of Reality TV taken to its extremes without the requisite dose of social comment.   
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