I am going to give The Hunger Games a five star review, but not because it is a perfect movie. It has one major problem that I can think of, and that is the fact that the computer generated Capitol city (along with some more of the CGI) looked a little dim and unbelievable, like Asgard in the new Thor flick. The reason I’m giving The Hunger Games a five star review, and the one thing that I want readers to take from this review, is that whether or not you’re a fan of the book, this is a movie worth seeing.
For those unfamiliar with the setting and story, The Hunger Games takes place in a post-apocalyptic North America. After a bloody rebellion against the government, the continent has been reorganized into Panem, a state divided into thirteen provinces (called “districts”) and one capitol city, home to the oppressive government and a wealthy aristocracy. Life in the districts is miserable. The people are fenced into small enclaves that are run the way I immagine Soviet collectives would have been run if we had had them in the American great depression. The hero of the film, Katniss Everdeen, hails from District Twelve, which specializes in coal mining. I find it more than a little remarkable that Suzanne Collins (author of the book) and Gary Ross (director of the film) have managed to turn hoards of fifteen year old girls who have never lived outside American comfort culture on to a strong female protagonist who lives in a mining town and shimmies under an electrified fence to shoot dinner with a bow and arrow.
Anyhizzle, once a year the Capitol forces each district to provide two “tributes,” one male and one female. The tributes participate in a “Hunger Game” in which they fight to the death with tributes from other districts until only one survivor remains. The battle is broadcast on live television. This whole exercise is supposedly meant to assert the Capitol’s dominance over the districts, but really it’s a show for the Capitol aristocrats, the most fun you’ll ever have watching kids kill each other without hauling your deck chair and umbrella drink to Uganda. In order to protect her sister, Katniss volunteers to become the district tribute. She is torn from her family and best friend, then tossed into a violent struggle to the death with only the pacifist son of a baker, Peeta Melark, to watch her back.
I loved this movie and I’ve already discussed the one minor issue that I had, so it’s tempting to spend the remainder of this review gushing. Yes, Woody Harrelson was a fantastic Haymitch, yes, the direction was masterful, yes, the nauseous, shaky-cam combat sequences were great, but you’ll know that once you see the movie. Which you will. Still, cascading a film with compliments isn’t how a thoughtful critic ought to approach a review, so I’ve reached back to the films marketing campaign to find something to whine about.
Attempts by promoters to draw their target audience by piggybacking Twilight fever cheapened what is a bold, bloody piece of speculative fiction. The first time I laid eyes on the promotional posters I could already hear the “team Peeta” vs. “team Gale” arguments a’brewin’. It’s a little off putting to know that marketers felt people could only process a film about a girl under eighteen if it had a “love triangle” dynamic, especially since this story has so much more to offer. The Hunger Games has the grit of a Jack London survival story sharpened into razor by elements of “The Most Dangerous Game” and bookended by the rule of an oppressive government a’la “1984,” “V For Vendetta,” or “Firefly.” I’ve been a Twilight apologist in the past, but seeing the “Breaking Dawn Part II” trailer before the start of The Hunger Games served as a great reminder of the quality gap between the two franchises. I hate to see them lumped together.
A lot of B-movie nerds like to point out that Japan has already had their Hunger Games, the difference being that they called their’s “Battle Royale.” That’s fair and I won’t dispute it, but The Hunger Games is Battle Royale with subtext about reality television, about wealth and poverty and the plight of the unfortunate as entertainment. We may like to think that this is detached, speculative fiction, but flip on Nancy Grace (or, as the great Louis C.K. once called her, “that fucking ghoul”) sometime. Our culture already has a penchant for seeing people we don’t like punished in front of a camera. We may not be so far from Panem after all.