The Hunger Games: Cute Girl Gets the Right Guy After Killing Off His Competition
|"The Hunger Games" (2012).|
One of the most anticipated films of 2012 was "The Hunger Games" from Lionsgate. It was perhaps the most eagerly awaited science fiction film without the words "Stars Wars" in the title in many years. Based on the book of the same name by Suzanne Collins, "The Hunger Games" (2012), directed by Gary Ross from a screenplay by Ross, Collins and Billy Ray, takes a common theme of fiction - people hunting each other - and projects it into the future as a way to create artificial drama. A massive box-office hit, "The Hunger Games" will generate a sequel set for release on November 22, 2013, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," and sequels on November 21, 2014 ("The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1") and November 20, 2015 ("The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2"). Well, at least they didn't put "Saga" in the sequels' titles. "The Hunger Games" continues the recent trend of capitalizing on a film's success quickly by cranking out a sequence of sequels within a short span, a practice perfected by Summit Entertainment with the five "Twilight" movies. That way, the same actors can be used before they outgrow their characters (Jennifer Lawrence is 20 and not getting any younger) or get more expensive. "Hunger Games," like "Twilight," is the modern version of the movie serials of the 1930s, a "Flash Gordon" for the 2000s, only so far, it is far more successful.
|Katniss and Peeta making eyes at each other in "The Hunger Games."|
It is a post-apocalyptic world (whether it is dystopian depends on your point of view), and the nation of Panem (pronounced "Pan-Am," making me wonder when it takes off) has evolved various unique customs. Due to a past rebellion of the twelve poor districts of the country against the wealthy Capitol, each district must send a pair of young people, a boy and girl termed "tributes," to an annual tournament (this is the 74th). The tributes are selected by a lottery called the "Reaping," and each is between 12 and 18 years of age. The tributes fight to the death, with the sole winner rewarded with fame and fortune.
|The Capitol building looks more than a little like a Fuhrer rally in "The Hunger Games."|
In District 12, the Tributes chosen are 12-year-old Primrose Everdeen and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker's son. Because Primrose is so young, her 16-year-old sister Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. Catnip and Peet-uh, um, Katniss and Peeta go to the Capital accompanied by their mentor Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson). Haymitch won the competition years before, and he tells the two about "career" Tributes who spend their lives preparing for the Games in hope they will be selected.
|Haymitch in "The Hunger Games."|
Peeta professes his love for Katniss during an interview with Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci). Katniss is suspicious that he has a hidden agenda, but later decides that he is being sincere. The Games, held in a vast wilderness area, begin with a cache of weapons free for the taking in front of a structure called the Cornucopia (shaped like a horn of plenty). Ignoring Haymitch's wise advice to simply run off into the wilderness at once, Katniss tries to seize some weapons and is almost killed like half of the other participants.
|Be careful, you might put someone's eye out with that thing in "The Hunger Games."|
Peeta loosely teams up with four "Career" tributes, though his heart remains with Katniss. They track Katniss to a tree, in which she hides, and they negligently decide to rest directly below her. Another tribute, Rue (Amanda Stenberg), is hiding nearby and draws Katniss' attention to a juiced-up bee's nest in the tree near Katniss. Katniss obligingly drops the swarming nest on the sleeping men, stinging one to death. Katniss, also stung, falls unconscious but is cared for by Rue until Katniss recovers.
|Cato, the heavy because he is not self-sacrificing in "The Hunger Games."|
The Careers tracking Katniss have amassed a stockpile of supplies, so Katniss has Rue draw the boys off while she destroys their goods. One of the Careers, Cato (Alexander Ludwig), kills another who was supposed to be guarding the stockpile. Rue gets caught in a trap, and when Katniss goes to free her, one of the Careers, Marvel (Jack Quaid), throws a spear that misses Katniss but strikes Rue, ultimately killing her. Katniss then kills Marvel and takes care of Rue's body with expressions of contempt for the viewers (the competition has cameras everywhere). The whole incident angers Rue's district, and President Snow (Donald Sutherland) must summon the Gamemaker, Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley, who has very weird facial hair), to calm the angry citizens.
|Katniss and Peeta in their gaudy combat suits in "The Hunger Games."|
Haymitch suggests to Crane that he should allow tributes from the same district to win as a team, which Crane accepts. Katniss then finds Peeta, who has an infected leg wound. An announcer proclaims a feast where tributes can request one thing that they need, and Katniss goes to get medicine for her comrade despite Peeta's self-sacrificing protest. Clove (Isabelle Fuhrman), a Career, finds Katniss coming back and is prepared to kill Katniss, but Clove, like any villain in a story like this on the verge of success, makes the mistake of gloating over the death of Rue. This causes the other tribute from Rue's District, Thresh (Dayo Okeniyi), to kill Clove instead and let Katniss go (quite self-sacrificing of him, too, I'd have killed them both). Katniss returns with the medicine and gets Peeta back on his feet.
|Katniss on the prowl in "The Hunger Games."|
Peeta gathers some berries to eat, but Foxface, another tribute, steals them and dies because they turn out to be poisonous (she gets her just desserts!). Crane, getting impatient with the slow pace of the killing, releases some vicious wolf-like animals into the arena to stir things up. Katniss and Peeta hide from them on the Cornucopia, where Cato confronts them. Katniss wings him with an arrow, then Peeta pushes him off the roof so the creatures can get him. Katniss puts Cato out of his misery with an arrow.
|Katniss introduced to the city by Caesar with Katniss doing the typical female frown that is so popular in "The Hunger Games."|
With Peeta and Katniss the only two Tributes left, Crane changes his mind about the rule change he agreed to earlier, saying there can only be one winner. Peeta offers himself as a sacrifice to Katniss, but she prepares to commit suicide with him. With that, Crane relents and allows them both to be declared victors, while Crane himself is forced to commit suicide by the President.
|Peeta in "The Hunger Games."|
"The Hunger Games" obviously is full of melodrama, false sentimentality and a complete lack of all rationality. However, it is full of action, has a strong female lead, and has a cathartic effect for those who need to relieve some aggression. The image of Katniss with a bow and arrow propelled interest in archery to record levels, even though that weapon only figures into the plot decisively at the end. If one is willing to suspend disbelief and play into the class-conscious set-up and "Survivor"-like battle, it is almost like watching a season-ending contest at Summer Camp, where campers are individually knocked out of the running for the grand prize of extra ice cream after dinner. The unexpected touch of having Crane, a peripheral figure, face the ultimate consequence for having done basically nothing wrong is just weird. as if it is a "everyone else must lose for me to win" scenario.
|For some reason, people are upset when Rue dies, but not when the other 21 people bite it in "The Hunger Games."|
Because of the raw "reality show" foundation of "The Hunger Games," viewers naturally pick and choose their favorites. There is an air of absurdity about the whole thing, with the little campers scrambling through the brush bumping each other off, but that only brings the logic of reality "Survivor" shows to its logical conclusion - you don't get voted off the island, you get shot and eaten by wolves. It's all a ridiculous parable about "who's really the toughest after all, the "tough" guy or the weak one with feminine sensitivity." The winner is chosen arbitrarily by the author to complete whatever point she had in mind, making this kind of film even less realistic than silly television reality shows, which at least have restrictive ground rules which guide the group toward an eventual "winner" based on nebulous opinions by a group. The author's intention here appears determined to create a powerful female heroine who decides everyone's fate, supported by a self-sacrificing weaker male sidekick, and if that is something that interests you, "Hunger Games" is the best film of the decade so far. In the end, it remains the basic "let the female decide with whom she shall mate" that has been the staple of cinema since the days of Thomas Edison. There are so many diva moments in "The Hunger Games" that you need all your fingers and most of your toes to count them. If you don't see the similarities to "Twilight" with its "dangerous love" theme in the wild, you simply aren't paying close enough attention. The fact that Katniss is a cold-blooded murderess is glossed over because, you know, that is part of the "game." Cato, of course, is a murderer, but he's not glorious Katniss, so when he kills, he ultimately must pay.
|President Snow and Seneca, the one with the crazy whiskers in "The Hunger Games."|
Naturally, this dominating heroine is the stunningly attractive Jennifer Lawrence, making her all the more sympathetic. If Katniss were ugly and boorish, with moles and buck teeth, the tale wouldn't be nearly as much fun for little girls to imagine themselves in her place. The film-makers are playing with the old "girls with guns" stereotypes without anybody caring, it is just more subtle, so all the cries about how this is a "feminist film" are so much hogwash. Having a sports contest in a futuristic or otherwise alien setting that features real violence and killing is an idea as old as the hills, at least as old as the 1932 "The Most Dangerous" which schoolkids are required to read. The idea continued on up through "The Running Man" (which this film's story echoes very strongly, even complete with echoes of the revolt at the end). "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson also springs to mind, and too many other projects to list. The idea of satirizing shows like "Survivor" by having the losers stabbed or whatever has been a staple of comedy for years, with one amusing instance showing up in the obscure "Run Ronnie Run." That "The Hunger Games" comes along ten years later acting as if this is some kind of new idea is a triumph of marketing. These types of "winner kills all" concepts just try to make pointless exercises seem to matter more than they would if everyone walked away and went home, as at the end of summer camp. The idea that people would send young girls off to fight to the death, then get upset when they are killed, shows lazy or distorted thinking by the author of this nonsense, and the idea that there are any rules in a "killer takes all" contest, or that anybody would trust anyone else at all in such circumstances is a laughable concept. Having people able to volunteer to take someone else's place also puts in question the entire framework, another loose thread revealing the artifice. "The Hunger Games" is full of conceits that avoid the painful truth that when death is the outcome, there are no rules, no civilization, only pure sadism and destruction from which nobody walks away unscathed.
|It's all movie magic in "The Hunger Games."|
"The Hunger Games" is big business, and franchise films are the rock stars of the era. Films are becoming increasingly unrealistic political vehicles for social groups to cheer on their "identity politics" heroes, and "The Hunger Games" is but the latest example, whether everybody in the audience realizes it or not. Why shouldn't there be action heroes for girls? They're all impossible and distorted caricatures anyway. "The Avengers" was the better 2012 film, but you might as well hop aboard the "Hunger Games" express. It may be high-concept and polemical, but it also can be crazy fun if you want to check your brains at the door.