Science fiction and fantasy
The Hunger Games
directed by Gary Ross
One of the most arresting aspects of this movie is the contrast between the poor districts and the wealthy Capitol. People in the rebel districts wear no make-up, wash in tin buckets, and put on plain 1940s-style clothes for their "best". Then the media people march in accompanied by dead-eyed Peacekeepers in smart white suits. In the Capitol oversaturated, acid colours and elaborate styles are the fashion. Even the train the contestants travel on is gleamingly opulent.
Katniss and her fellow district 12 tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) are well treated, but they're too busy worrying about what's ahead to enjoy the luxury of their new surroundings. They aren't plunged straight into the arena, however. Instead they spend time training, with the guidance of their mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and the help of a stylist (Lenny Kravitz). Their aim is to try and attract the interest of sponsors who might pay to supply them with equipment and other things they will need to survive. The film dwells on this part of the process, emphasising the way popularity and presentation are at least as important as the ability to shoot a bow or use a knife. Although the movie doesn't make reference to any TV talent show it's hard to watch it without thinking of several examples of the torture TV genre that the Hunger Games could so easily have sent up. The Roman gladiatorial arena imagery is no accident as the crowd roar like animals and the tributes parade in on chariots.
In the woods the tributes are finally set upon each other, and this is where it all gets horrifyingly real. It's nasty, although the violence isn't quite as splattery as Battle Royale nor as graphic as The Running Man. Like those movies it's not meant to be a realistic depiction of what could happen; it's more of a satire on the excesses of our culture. It's not a preachy movie, but the message is pointed.
As Katniss struggles to stay alive we realise she's not in a wilderness at all. Every spot conceals a camera, and technological marvels lurk in every sod of earth or tree trunk. Even the wasps are genetically engineered to be more lethal. At first I was surprised at how little Katniss turns on her real adversary, those who run the games. But how she and the other competitors react is understandable when we realise they're in a totally artificial environment, with little power and only one apparent means of escape. However I did feel that the stakes seemed to be too low for the game organisers and President Snow (Donald Sutherland), so that what they do appears arbitrary and cruel. We're told the Hunger Games are in their 74th year, and this made me wonder about the politics of punishing the rebellious districts for all that time. President Snow makes some intriguing statements about his motivations, and I would have liked to have learned more about this side of the story.
As for the contestants, they're a mixed bunch of murderous bullies and generous, co-operative people. There's some nice misdirection when it comes to figuring out who lies in which camp, but on the whole too few of them fall in the morally ambiguous middle. However I did like the main characters, even though Katniss takes too many opportunities to be predictably self-sacrificing. It's an involving movie, and I found myself rooting for her against all of the threats she's up against. With fire, forest creatures, products and surveillance that are all so advanced they seem magical, this film is visually spectacular. Thumbs up.
27th March 2012
If you like this, try:The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 by Francis Lawrence
Katniss must choose between sparking a rebellion against the repressive Capitol, or laying low in an attempt to protect those she loves who the Capitol still holds hostage. The third film in The Hunger Games.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire by Francis Lawrence
Katniss may have survived the Hunger Games, but what can one person do to prevent the districts breaking out into open rebellion? The second film in The Hunger Games series.
Elysium by Neill Blomkamp
In the future the mega-rich live in luxury on a space station, whilst everyone else lives with poverty and disease on Earth, until one man gets the opportunity to change the system, if only he can survive long enough.
Review © Ros Jackson