Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Hunger Games

Directed by Gary Ross.
2012. Rated PG-13, 142 minutes.
Liam Hemsworth
Wes Bentley
Isabelle Fuhrman
Willow Shields
Paula Malcomson

Once a year, as penance for an earlier uprising against The Capitol, each of the 12 districts in the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem is required to send one male and one female between the ages of 12 and 18 to participate in The Hunger Games. The 24 “tributes” are shipped off to the Capitol where they’ll train for a couple weeks than head out into the forest where they will literally try to out survive each other. Yes, this means only one of them will leave these battlegrounds alive and be crowned the winner. This person will then be showered with copious amounts of fame and fortune.

The kids are chosen at their annual “Reaping.” Basically, all the adolescents have their name thrown into a bin from which two unlucky contestants are drawn. This year in District 12, barely eligible and obviously weak Primrose Everdeen (Shields) gets picked. Valiantly, her older and sturdier sister Katniss (Lawrence) volunteers to go in her place. It helps her chances that she’s an expert with a bow and arrow. She’ll be joined by Peeta (Hutcherson). No one is kind enough to volunteer for his spot. Off they go to The Capitol. Oh, I almost forgot: they travel with Effie Trinket, one of the district’s head honchos. I only mention her because she’s played by ElizabethBanks in full drag-queen regalia. Also with them is their appointed coach Haymitch Abernathy (Harrelson). He’s a past winner and obviously jaded by the experience.

We get a lengthy section on our heroine training, learning how strong some of the others are, how to play nice with the higher-ups and being introduced to the world. Sorry, I failed to mention that “The Hunger Games” are televised throughout the country. After more than sufficient build-up, we finally get to the games. Teenagers trying to kill each other ensues.

On the surface, it’s a fine movie. The setup is a bit too long as it is working really hard to make sure we like Katniss. Much of it is extraneous energy since she has us wrapped around her finger the moment she volunteers. This part of the film also makes sure we know who the favorites to win are. By default, they serve as villains. We also get to meet a few bad guys who will stay behind the scenes. This way, we’re fully vested in Katniss by the time the action begins. Like I said, it’s overdone but it’s still effective.

For some of us, there is the proverbial 800 pound gorilla in the room: Battle Royale. For those unaware, BR is a 2000 Japanese film with pretty much the same premise. A group of ninth graders are made to go off into the woods and terminate one another until only one remains in the land of the living. The way things play out in both movies makes The Hunger Games essentially a remake, or re-imagining, with a bigger budget, more screen time for adults and far more extravagant costuming.

That said, there is a major difference between the two movies: what they choose to be a metaphor for. BR is a microcosm of the way teenagers interact with one another and of adolescence itself. The cliquish nature of high school and hyperactive teen angst take center stage. THG ignores those things as much as possible. Instead, it’s a riff on our ever-expanding fascination with and the proliferation of reality television. It takes square aim at the logical evolution of a genre in which the stakes are constantly being raised. This is a solid, though still not quite fresh, topic for people in the target audience. However, for those of us old enough to remember such films, it lacks the depth and originality of such fare as The Truman Show or The Running Man.

Taken on its own terms, THG is a solid flick with slightly more on its mind than your average popcorn flick. Still, it never gets preachy. After all, social commentary is not the main purpose here, engaging and entertaining us through a likeable protagonist is. The other purpose is precisely like almost all other big blockbuster movies: setting us up for the sequel.

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

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