By Amy Nicholson
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By Calum Marsh
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By Voice Film Critics
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
"If no one watches, then they don't have a game," a teenager says in this faithful if cautious adaptation of the first volume of Suzanne Collins's astronomically successful dystopic YA trilogy. A withering indictment of omnipresent screens, endless spectacle, and debased celebrity culture, The Hunger Games was inspired, the author has said, by flipping the channels from a reality-TV show to footage of the Iraq war. Most of Collins's critique, then, is compromised by the very existence of this big-screen transfer, itself the most anticipated spectacle of the spring. (The novelist, who both co-wrote the script with director Gary Ross and Billy Ray and executive-produced, is apparently fine with the contradiction.)
Set in an unspecified, postapocalyptic future, The Hunger Games takes place in Panem, a nation constructed out of the ruins of North America and consisting of 12 mostly impoverished districts and the prosperous Capitol. (For those unfamiliar with the book, this backstory is told quickly through opening intertitles.) As punishment for an earlier uprising—and as a reminder of its complete control over its citizens—the Capitol demands that one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 from each district be selected via annual lottery to participate in the Hunger Games. Now in its 74th edition, this televised pageant of nonstop gore (and mandatory viewing) documents the 24 randomly drawn teenagers killing each other until only one remains.
This year's female "tribute" from District 12—one of Panem's most destitute regions, a coal-mining center located in the former Appalachia—is Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a flinty 16-year-old who volunteers for the slaughter so that her beloved fragile younger sister, whose name has just been called, will be spared. Two years ago, Lawrence played a similar character in the present-day, Ozarks-set Winter's Bone: the unyielding survivalist roasting squirrels over a spit, forced at too young an age to become a caretaker and fighting off many who would like to see her dead. The earlier association enhances Lawrence's role here; the actress, more solidly built than her wispy contemporaries, has a particular gift for exuding iron determination and dead-eyed exhaustion—like a junior version of one of Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mothers.
Other cultural referents don't work as well. When Katniss and her male counterpart, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), travel from their hardscrabble region to the gleaming, Oz-like Capitol, the city's opulence and depravity are conveyed via male citizens who look like members of the Lollipop Guild as styled by SNL's Stefon. Decadence is coded as unmistakably gay among the men in Capitol crowd scenes and the primpers who prepare Katniss for her pre–Hunger Games, American Idol–style interviews; these nellie Day-Glo steampunkers suggest that we can blame Project Runway for the end of civilization. (Katniss's chief stylist, Cinna, played by an excellent Lenny Kravitz, is more ambiguously metrosexual.) Other significant set pieces from Collins's novel look laughably pitiful when realized on-screen: The Cornucopia, the horn-shaped warehouse to which the tributes race at the beginning of the Games to pick up supplies, eliminating many competitors in the process, resembles a Frank Gehry–designed titanium turd.
For the film's most difficult visual challenge—depicting the unrelenting violence of the source so that it is neither cynically glamorized nor too brutal to preclude pubescents from buying tickets—Ross, who previously directed Pleasantville and Seabiscuit, and cinematographer Tom Stern smartly deploy rapid cuts and quick shots of the aftermath of the kid-on-kid savagery. A palm-size pool of blood, a vacant stare, a body going limp all effectively communicate the horrors of what just happened with sufficient impact. Like the pacing of the novel, the film, even at almost two and a half hours, moves briskly, continuously drawing us in.
And yet, at the risk of indulging in tired, pointless debates about page versus screen, it is impossible for this movie to ever hope to match the fury of the book. Collins is no great prose stylist, but through her very premise, she astringently articulates her anger at a culture—ours—indifferent to inequity and war and besotted with its own stupidity. (Horrifyingly, you have the sense while reading that these televised Survivor-style kiddie kills seem all too likely to be realized one day.) But the book's rage and despair are diluted here, focusing too much on the high-tech gimmickry of the Gamemakers, who arbitrarily insert obstacles—fire, mutant dogs—that further imperil the tributes. Although the novel might make concessions to the conventions of young-adult lit—Katniss and Peeta form two points of a love triangle; the third is waiting for her back in District 12—Collins's heroine is, in one of the source material's most gripping sections, perilously close to dying from dehydration. That slow, awful process is not dramatized on-screen: To do so would require an investment in a deeper, more existential and lonely terror that Ross's movie refuses to broach.
Hollywood is running out of ideas so they have to turn to book adaptations. I must say Hunger Games was great
For a more thoughtful commentary on the difficulties of satirizing a medium as omnivorously totalizing as television.
The issue is one of plagiarism. If you are the owner of BR's rights, then how can you re-introduce BR into American society that has come to think "The Hunger Games" is the first incarnation of this idea? The issue is not as clear cut as you make it, because it involves a whole slew of copy right laws which people like Harlan Ellison have successfully fought to uphold in order to protect the ideas of the creator. What's pathetic is that a brilliant piece of social commentary had to be appropriated by an American reality TV creator and then reinvented and westernized. Can you imagine the artwork of Dali going through a similar process? Why can't the source material be appreciated on its own terms? And why can't fans acknowledge the obvious similarity without being offended that the text they love has in fact been appropriated from elsewhere? In fact, that is the issue right there: the latter supplants the former. But it was the former that truly inspired people with a brilliant idea. Just because "Twilight" fans have not heard of something doesn't mean that the idea is any less brilliant. Many people who were cutting edge knew and loved BR. So the issue is infringement. And if I were the lawyer of the rights holder of BR, I would advise them to file a suit since their chances of reviving their own property are hindered by the masquerade that is "The Hunger Games."
What does it matter that it's been done before. Obviously, a new young audience has come to this work and will experience in book and film a critique of our society. This is good. Thanks to Nolansucks for the post, it given me more insight and has made me want to explore the various expressions of "Battle Royale" which I was not aware of. We need many Mockingjays to sing our reality back to us.
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Let's put it this way -- the hamburger was already in existence (the nationalized gladiatorial games), but "Battle Royale" was the first chili cheeseburger ever (teenage games fight to the finish on media); "Hunger Games" is Denny's version of the the chili cheeseburger.
i just hope the movie explains the hunger games right-taking my parents to see it, and i know some movies from books make it confusing for anyone who hasnt read it (ive read the books though)
Okay, moving past the obviousness of the conceit (a nationalized, media-vised gladitorial conflict), which has been done in comic books and pulp novels for decades now, "Battle Royale" as a movie and as a manga series specifically tailored the conceit to examine the disparity between the youth and the elderly in Japan. Although there were adumbrations of this approach in other media, "Battle Royale" was the first to do it specifically in this manner. Now, "The Hunger Games" tries to distinguish itself from its obvious influence by making it "Americanized" for a culture that it's meant to critique. Reading the books, I was offended as a long time "BR" fan how the author had deliberately mined "BR" and yet claimed that it was inspired by watching mediated reality with the Iraq War. Come on. The irony is that the fans of "The Hunger Games" are too hypnotized by the twin commodities of media lust -- sex and violence -- to care that their book is a regurgitation of a much more philosophically complex source material. "BR" doesn't try to paint a false picture of reality and love conquering all. Like Kubrick's work on "A Clockwork Orange," "BR" attempts to analyze the complex social actions of a young generation mildly influenced by the core values echoed by their parents. "BR" has a much more accurate depiction of natural man, than "Hunger Games" which by its nature is designed solely to make a profit. If the author had admitted her influences as homages then I would have been more receptive to this debased masquerade; instead she tried to elevate her material by citing mythic influences alone and somehow overlooking ALL the other influences geeks have already alluded to on numerous sites. Either she's really stupid, really smart, or she has a hell of an intellectual property lawyer advising her on how best to address the issue of her plagiarism. As a film, the movie has winking nods to "Battle Royale," in style and tone, so similar in fact I can't see how the producers can feign ignorance regarding "BR," but when it comes to the fans of this series, none of the details matter, so long as there is enough electrical charge to match that of your average russet potato. They only care about one thing -- exterminating all rational thought. Luckily the author of the franchise knows this all too well.
blah blah blah everything's been done before blah...the movie takes the edge from the book blah....I am film critic I always say the same things blah. book to movie is never going to be perfect blah...also, they are not going to show her tortured scenes of dehydration unless you want a 4 hour movie....people have short attention spans today duh blah....
The prototype of all of this stuff is the 1958 short story by Robert Sheckley called "The Prize of Peril".
text is available here: http://arthursclassicnovels.co...
It not only anticipates reality TV, but shows that everything you hate about slug-level television today, actually was up and operating during the first 'Golden Age' 50 years ago. It's a great, funny read.
the concept was already done, and ripped off from (?) a 1960s OUTER LIMITS episode, in which nick adams is taken from earth and forced to fight some alien, with the loser having their planet destroyed.
and then there's the japanese movie, BATTLE ROYALE.
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