In a dystopic future, random citizens are pulled from the populous to die for the entertainment of others in The Hunger Games.
People don’t know this but the original title of this movie was Escape From The Dangerous Naked Apocalyptic Roller Maiden Logan And The Soylent Thunder Death Race Running Killer Cyborg Idiocracy 2020AD. True story!
OK, so, this is the story of a future (technologically advanced) world where a strong central government district basically enslaves 12 subordinate districts, and shows its metaphorical pimp hand by annually plucking two random teenagers (one boy, one girl) out of the population and forcing them to serve in the titular games.
Said games involving fighting to the death. Not even the last pair: Either one girl or one boy survives.
Movies like this (and there have been oh, so many) can be weighted in several different ways: Social commentary, commentary on human nature, and, of course, action. For example, all the ‘80s Road Warrior knock-offs were basically just Enter The Dragon in a post-apocalyptic millieu. They barely commented on human nature, much less made an attempt at relevent social commentary. The ’70s Rollerball, which is probably over-rated at least in part because of the execrable remake, was heavy with the typical nihilism-laden commentary of that era.
In fact, if there’s a problem with this sort of movie, it’s that the desire to be relevant and meaningful is often just an dime-store philosophical icing on top of a doughnut of action. Whether that doughnut is stale or not, the icing ain’t gonna help. (Hunger Games, see? Food metaphors? Not doing it for you?)
So, let’s look at the initial setup for the movie first: The concept of an oppressive central government. That’s some fine social commentary there. And the beauty of it is that, a la Scrotie McBoogerballs, it doesn’t matter where you fall politically: You can support your feeble platform here, given the complete lack of information as to how the central government became powerful in the first place.
Though not well detailed in the movie, it feels real enough. Central governments have been known to leech off their colonies, and oppress said colonies. So, sure. Why not. Good social commentary.
Now, I’m of the opinion that the social commentary is less relevant than the commentary on human nature. And here, frankly, I find the movie wanting. I mean, it’s all very well to show the oppressed people how oppressed they are by you, but if you’re going to do it by killing their children in a spectacular television extravaganza you’d better REALLY have them pinned down.
You know what I mean? Child killing is a real rabble-rouser. It’s an awesome humiliation, for sure, but you gotta be able to pull it off or you’ll get riots. And, in fact, they do at one point, which one could charitably attribute to a weakening of the central power. That is, perhaps these games started when the central power was stronger and this story takes place as the power is collapsing.
The more realistic view is that a young adult novel should feature young adults as the main characters. I’m not gonna fault that (much).
There are actually quite a few places where you can either take a charitable view or not. I was inclined to be charitable: I understand the books filled in the blanks, and it didn’t feel like the movie was just making stuff up as it went along but rather skipping the unimportant details.
Finally, there’s the action. And it’s solid. A nice mix of hand-to-hand, running and hiding, traps, cleverness, and so on. What’s more, you get some pretty strong characters.
Jennifer Lawrence (as Katniss) is typically compelling. Tough by nature, and also socially awkward, the sense that there’s a wildly emotional teenage girl underneath is overpowering. Not unlike her roles in Winter’s Bone and as Mystique in X-Men: First Class. That she has a certain star quality is apparent at this point.
That said, I actually liked her boy counterpart, Peeta, better. Ably played by Josh Hutcherson, Peeta is the baker’s son, who lacks the athletic skills the others have, but manages to be resourceful and simply strong in ways that others aren’t.
Woody Harrelson reprises his role from Kingpin, or really Bill Murray’s role from Kingpin. He didn’t quite work for me. I really didn’t recongize Elizabeth Banks or Wes Bentley. Donald Sutherland is wonderful, of course, but his moonbatty conviction doesn’t carry the fact that his expository dialog makes the least sense (at least to me).
Stanley Tucci steals every scene he’s in, becoming an oddly charismatic and repulsive mixture of Richard Dawson, Monty Python and Satan. As a character and a caricature (of entertainment media personalities), he’s uncomfortably real feeling.
Also a mixture of uncomfortable caricature and realistic depiction are the audiences, which have to echo strongly with the viewers of certain reality shows.
So, what’s the verdict? Well, I’ll tell you: I think this movie separates the boys (and girls) from the old folks. The number of times I thought of another movie while watching this is literally uncountable, and the movie gives what has to be knowing nods to classic dystopic films. This film could have been made in 1974 for the way it looks and feels.
Except! It lacks the characteristic despair of that era. Which, frankly, is welcome in its absence.
This being my millieu, I got a few smiles, especially in the Capitol, where I felt like the director, costumer and set designers were all winking at me. And, really? The movies that this borrows from really weren’t that good. So, yeah, I liked it.
The Flower and the Boy both liked it. The Flower in a simple fashion, as befits her ten-year-old nature. The Boy’s reaction was more of pleasant surprise. He felt like the 2+ hours passed in a subjective 90 minute way.
Most of the negative reviews I’ve seen are from the older set, and I can understand this, but I would say: Yes, it’s been done many, many times. But has it been done better? In a lot of ways, I think the “young adult” nature of the story (like last year’s The Eagle) keeps it out of the weeds more “adult” presentations tend to wallow in.