Watching the adaptation of the super-popular teen book series The Hunger Games,I was struck by how similar it is to a number of other things. The urban-versas-rural, nigh anti-Federalist leanings of the plot reminded me heavily of Firefly and it’s film spin-off Serenity. Though I highly doubt Joss Whedon feels that way politically. The forcing of children to kill children is obviously taken from Battle Royale. Anyone who has seen that film and then watches this and denies the similarities is an apologist, delusional or both. At the very least, there’s a lot of Lord of the Flies through a post-apocalyptic filter.
Seems that in a vague future time, there is a country resembling America in which there had been a civil war and, to keep the rebels in line, they force a boy and girl from each district to fight to the death in a tournament. At first glance, it doesn’t seem like it should be that difficult to control the population, considering the district from which our heroine Katniss hails has a constituency small enough that all the children constitute less than what made up my tiny high school in rural Kansas. But I digress.
The capitol city rules all with an iron fist and is run by foppish, yet bloodthirsty defendants of RuPaul. It’s hard to imagine their shocktroopers bothering to take orders from any of them and not taking over immediately in a military coup. When your least flamboyant citizen is Lenny Kravitz in gold eyeshadow, it’s really saying something. By the time Armin Zola from Captain America showed up in a Flock of Seagulls haircut…. But I digress again.
The point is, they bask in luxury and exploit the backwater districts for their resources and labor, putting their jackboots on the throats of anyone that threatens to upset that system again. Sort of like a stoned teenager’s understanding of British colonialism.
The fight to the death is a tournament called The Hunger Games (“Oh, so that’s where they got that from,” as Peter Griffin would say.) The Games are broadcast to even the poorest districts that seem to be without indoor plumbing, so they can watch their children being put down like it’s the Olympics. To say that the negative allusions to reality TV are obvious is an incredible understatement. Tributes, as they are called, are interviewed by Stanley Tucci as a cross between Bob Costas and Liberace. They’re paraded before all in an opening ceremony. They try to impress sponsors so they can get extra survival goodies and, upon entry to their arena, are pushed into confrontations by a descendant of Ed Harris’ character in The Truman Show. When he is not using his beard trimmer, he creates what I will describe as hard-light environments for the tournament and “directs” things, while the ruler of the country glowers and threatens as only Donald Sutherland can. Since these have all the characteristics and physical traits of the real thing, (the wood burns to create heat) one wonders why they need to bother with things like slave-labor for coal-mining and agriculture when they could make anything they need. (Perhaps these things are better explained in the books.)
There are a lot of things to make fun of in this film, believe me. I’d love to hear the Rifftrax. But what I haven’t told you yet is it’s actually a pretty competent movie with some very good work from actors like Jennifer Lawrence and Woody Harrelson as the drunken souse that is the last person from Katniss’ District 12 to win the games. And if you look at the ridiculousness of the capitol as an analogue for the kind of ridiculous that happened in ancient Rome, it does make thematic sense. It manages to find a swollen emotional core and, while the ending is hardly in doubt, it does make you want to see Katniss succeed. She’s tough, self-reliant and smart. Everything Bella Swan-Cullen is not. Frankly, if the choice is between a kid watching this and a kid reading Twilight, I would get this for them immediately.
(Three out of five stars)