Tuesday, March 27, 2012

"The Hunger Games": Is this the future some of our GOP candidates would have in store for us?

Even on a Monday (school) night, at Tyson’s Corner AMC in northern VA at the Imax auditorium, there was a fairly full auditorium to see “The Hunger Games” at full price. 

I have to say that the “look” of this sci-fi “epic” from Gary Ross reminded me of “Atlas Shrugged”.  Most people know the set-up of Suzanne Collins’s novel: after a total breakdown, the US has dissolved and much of the world is ruled by a neo-fascist government form a palatial “Capitol” (which apparently lies in the North Carolina Smokies) where the rich people enjoy their cartoonish dream distant from “real life” out in the fiefdoms where the public has real jobs (coal mining, garment manufacture) and is opiated by public reality TV.  But this is more malignant than any “Truman Show”.

Once a year, two young people are drafted from each of twelve “districts” for a gladiator fight in a woodsy park preserve (with Jurassic aspects) near the Capital.  This year (around 2100 or so), Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers to take the place of her younger sister – again, a statement about family responsibility defined by the procreation of others, not one’s own.  The other conscript from her District is Peeta (Josh Hutcherson ).  The original rules say that only one of the 24 combatants can survive. This conscription-like sacrifice seems to be the government's answer to a prior revolt. 

The powers-that-be make a spectacle.  Effie (Elizabeth Banks) seems like a caricature of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann (intermingled) as she celebrates the sacrifice of her “tributes”.  Coach Haymitch (a sanded-down Woody Harrelson, again right out of “Game Change”) tells Katniss that she needs to earn sponsors by making people like her.  (I’m not very good at that, and it’s hard to see what sponsors can do.)   (Donald Sutherland helps round out the evil as “President Snow”, and Wess Bentley (“American Beauty”) is the game-creator of those wonderful holographic monsters. The “tributes” are treated like royalty for a few days (not the case when I was drafted in 1968), but put through “training” and some “body analysis” which could make some less secure people squeamish about themselves.  Peeta shows how he can camouflage his limbs and not be the worse for wear.  (We did learn that in Basic.)  

Everything changes when the “bell tolls” and the “event” starts.  Yet, the scene turns in to “The Lord of the Flies”.  The weakest kids go down right away to others, but the remaining survivors tend to form temporary social alliances despite the knowledge than only one can survive.  I was not that impressed by the way the film solves its “final problem” with the plot at the end.  But I was impressed by how much story-telling happens in a relatively constricted environment.  

The setting for the film is indeed bifurcated.  The “capital” looks like a set for a model railroad (the high speed train is impressive, and it looks like one in the Ayn Rand film above), and the whole effect is that of people living one someone else’s make-believe stage-world. 

The writing, for both the book and screenplay (Gary Ross) would present the a particular challenge, of making the "interior story", of the hunt within the limited space of the forest preserve, itself interesting, when it is the "political message" and entire world setup that seems to attract the audiences in the first place.  I find the same problem in one of my own scripts. 

Lionsgate released this movie early in the year, probably (and correctly) expecting to profit from the sorry behavior of this nation’s ideological (and sometimes extremist) right wing – the GOP political candidates – which the film obviously takes a pot shot at.  The film obviously attempts satire, but it isn't funny (in spots, it's a little nauseating, deliberately). This is the (Canadian) “indie” studio (which fifteen years ago had stressed small films, before acquiring Artisan and some other studios and going public) which, like Summit, makes or bankrolls indie-like films that keep getting bigger. 

The official site is here  (requires newest Flash and enabling pop-ups).
Lionsgate didn’t play its wonderful A-major musical signature during the intro.  Again, I think studios should show their entire trademarks, including (legally protected) music and that the distribution and production company trademarks should complete showing before the music of the film itself starts.   (Sorry, Roadside Attractions didn’t get in on this film, as it often does with Lionsgate.)

By the way, AMC has 22 minutes of previews last night.  A bit much for a long film. 

The Ellen Show has this interview by Liam Hemsworth (Gale). 

I’d give this movie a “B+”. 

Pictures (mine): Charlotte, NC (where much of film was shot); Roadside America (PA), rather like the "model world" environment of the capital, perhaps.  

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