Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hunger Games

Written at the time of the film's release...

Killed in the Ratings
Welcome to Another Exciting Edition of Thunderdome!

I know all I need to know about The Hunger Games
So "young a-dult" is The Hunger Games
Like "Potter" before it (The "Twilight" books, too)
Recycling ideas to 'tweens and their peers
Who think that it's "new."

There have been a lot of books before "The Hunger Games"
A lot of "Running Man" in "The Hunger Games"
A "Rollerball" theme and everything seems
Exactly the same.

I know all I need to know about The Hunger Games

(Crooned to the tune of "The Crying Game")

Yeah, yeah. I'm being "Joe Buzzkill" here. The Hunger Games is going to make a kajillion dollars (even in dystopian future-money) in theaters, DVD's, books, magazines and "mockingjay" pins. Nothing I say can stop that (nor should it).

But it's a fact that this is all recycled material* (just as "Harry Potter" was, just as "Twilight" was), just skewed young for the burgeoning youth book market (which is still thankfully strong). The one interesting aspect to it is that this is "The Most Dangerous Game" for a generation having grown up on alleged "reality" TV programming. An entire generation has happened since "Survivor," "Big Brother," "The Bachelor," "The Amazing Race," "Fear Factor," and "American Idol," all game shows rigged from the get-go,** manipulated for false drama in editing suites, ginned up with flashy production values and glitz, and as genuine of enterprise and skill as a WWF wrestling match—think of it, there are people who pay good money to see that junk "live."

There's a sucker born every minute.

Or a saga.
The story is, by now, well-known: In the future, America is now Panem, divided into 12 working districts governed by an all-controlling Capitol, run by President Snow (Donald Sutherland in the film, who might give the second best performance in it, a brutal paternalism, done with economy and implied malice—he's something of a breath of fresh air from some of the other performances, and his reading of the reply to "Everybody likes an underdog"—"I don't"—made me laugh out loud, while putting a chill down my spine).  Every year, two teens from each district are chosen by lottery for "the Hunger Games," a televised death match from which only one can survive. It's The Olympics to the Death, complete with pomp, circumstance, and Roone Arledge style "up-close-and-personal" drama dredging.  It's "bread and circuses" for the Masses with mock sentimentality and district pride provided to cover the slaughterhouse aspects.
From the coal-mining district (12) comes Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, who's the best thing in the film, giving a performance cunning and tremulous) who volunteers for the Games when her 12 year old sister is chosen in the lottery.  Her co-warrior is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, in a performance that could best be described as "uneven"), with whom she's had a past.
The two are sent by bullet-train to the Capitol, where they are
prepped, buffed-up, coiffed and positioned for presentation to the national audience, their handlers being Effie Trinket (an unrecognizable Elizabeth Banks in an insufferable performance), past winner Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson who has his moments—"Nice shooting, sweetheart" gets an appreciative audience response) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), their fashion designer. This is easily the worst part of the film, the satire played broad (especially by Toby Jones and Stanley Tucci—both usually fine actors—who play the TV hosts for the broadcast) with a fashion-sense of the privileged Capitol citizens that can best be described as "subtle clown" (or is it "post-modern Gaga?").
I suppose director
Gary Ross (who co-wrote and brought in Steven Soderbergh as second unit director) wanted to make satirical points on Capitol decadence or enhance the futuristic "feel" of the film, but he's a rather dull director and when he "pushes" it, he takes it places that feel false. At 2 hours, 20 minutes, if there are places that needed to be trimmed, it's in this section. But, once the actual contest starts with its electronically domed barriers, constant video surveillance, and game "enhancements" (like fireballs and this movies's version of R.O.U.S.'s***), the film becomes slick, vicious fun. And, appropriately, manipulative as Hell, in the foreground, background and throughout.

Why, after all, should the movie be any different from its inspirations? And if it gets the kids to realize that everything—sports, video games, "reality" shows, fashion, political campaigns, whatever—is just distractions from the struggles of real life, used by government and corporations alike, to keep us satiated with bread and circuses, just like in those "boring" History lessons about Rome, then so much the better.

Of course, it would be nice, if instead of going to the theaters to see it, we might (I dunno) join a protest or something?  Jefferson said "A little revolution now and again is a good thing." But it was never a spectator sport.

* "The buzz" on IMDB is that The Hunger Games is a "rip-off" of Battle Royale (2000).  Sure. Okay. So, what is Battle Royale a rip-off of?

** My favorite comment about "reality" programming was Johnny Carson's about "Survivor:" "I can't feel badly for these people when I know just out of camera range there are 20 Teamsters and a "catering table."

*** For anyone who isn't a fan of The Princess Bride, that would be "Rats Of Unusual Size."

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