I’m a long-time admirer of Dystopian Cinema -- movies about morally, culturally, and economically bankrupt “future worlds” -- and thus I was very much looking forward to The Hunger Games.
Directed by Gary Ross from Suzanne Collin’s best-selling novel of the same name, the epic film involves a teenage girl who becomes a contestant in a life-or-death (televised) spectacle in a decadent future society
We saw similar gladiatorial games in Death Race 2000 (1975), Rollerball (1975), and The Running Man (1987) to name only a few.
In other words, the filmmakers often back away from the "core" of the material, and don't play it for all it is worth. This movie should be about America in 2012, about the qualities we ask of our our "stars," and the ways we broach fame. Instead, The Hunger Games is about none of those things, at least not in a fashion that is cerebral or intriguing.
In the oppressive future state of Panem, the insurrectionists living in twelve poverty-stricken districts are required every year to give up two “tributes” -- a male and female each between the ages of twelve and eighteen -- to participate in a life or death contest called The Hunger Games.
Before the games commence, Katniss and Peeta train with their fellow contestants, learning their strengths and weaknesses in the process. They are also introduced on TV by the Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). Katniss makes a splash with viewers, and Peeta admits on-air that he is in love with her.
I have not read Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel, The Hunger Games (2008), or any of its follow-ups so I cannot, alas, comment meaningfully on whether or not this 2012 film represents an adequate or faithful adaptation of the literary material.
In other words, the audiences can’t judge the film’s perspective or viewpoint on the world. Is it the rich elite who made the world a hell? Or overreaching government? In the end, it all just comes across as kind of, well, simple-minded. What we are left with is that evil government is evil, decadent people are decadent, and good citizens are good. That's as deep as it gets. The film is smart enough to tap the Zeitgeist, but it can't commit to a specific aspect of that Zeitgeist.
Yet, by the same token, Peeta hunts down Katniss during the games with a group of others, which is hardly the act of a soul mate. And then, if he does authentically love her, why doesn't he murder in cold blood the other contestants (staking out the tree where she is hiding), while they sleep?
Why set up a satire of reality TV and then drop it without comment?
Laughably, even the masters of the game keep changing the rules so Katniss doesn't have to kill Peeta to survive the game. Convenient, no?
Because Katniss never must make the choice to kill someone like Rue -- an innocent little kid -- the movie never addresses the central question of violence and its morality.
Is it right to kill another human being for your own survival?
For the survival of your family?
The Hunger Games features children killing children on screen -- something I’ve rarely if ever seen in a horror movie, for example -- but makes absolutely no commentary on the morality underlying these killings. This way, we can continue to gaze at Katniss as a hero, I suppose. She's more of an innocent bystander than an active participant in the violence.
In two words: cop out.
It's a fact, isn't it, that muscle-mass comes from eating right and vigorous exercise? How are these poor District-ers eating so well, getting so much protein, and working out so frequently under the yoke of The Evil Government?
Either the movie should have cast more appropriately, or the actors and actresses should have fasted a bit before principal photography began. But if those changes had occurred, The Hunger Games wouldn't be able to show off hot young nubile bodies, and that, finally, is what gets the Twilight crowd into the theater, isn't it?
|Does she look hungry?|
|How about him?|
|Does he look like he's starving to you?|
|What about these folks? Skinny, undernourished kids living off the land?|
Dystopia can't be built in a day. For audiences to believe in a corrupt future world, they must understand why it works or why it doesn't. It needs to be internally-consistent and well-thought out.
In terms of dystopian films, this one wouldn't likely survive the first round with Rollerball or Death Race 2000. The Hunger Games looks terrific and is fronted by the very appealing Lawrence, but the film doesn't hold up under the slightest intellectual scrutiny.