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Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Hunger Games: Catching Fire film posterSynopsis

Part two of the trilogy by Suzanne Collins about Katniss Everdene who is one of a group of young people recruited in a dystopian future by a totalitarian regime to provide reality TV killing contests.  Donald Sutherland is the tyrant and Philip Seymour Hoffman is his new games impresario. The proletariat work in mines and are subject to brutal militarized discipline.  Katniss is recruited with her boyfriend Peeta Mellark.  She meets the other contestants and appears on Stanley Tucci’s reality TV show.  The contestants are let loose on each other in the jungle…

Review

Even though this is mostly a re-cycling of the first film, that is not necessarily a bad thing.  After all, Katniss is let loose with new people facing new challenges like on a  hi-tech Dr Moreau’s island.  Philip Seymour has devised a kind of water wheel which interferes with the hunt when things get a bit slow.  They face poisonous fog, carnivorous baboons and each other.  Survival is supposed to be the paramount concern but contestants are effectively subversive when they undermine the rules and show inefficient compassion.  The satire is obviously directed at the infantile vileness of reality TV, this is Brave New World with violence rather than soma as the drug.  Elizabeth Banks re-appears as the decadent mentor of the players, in her post modernist make up and clothes she is a Blade Runner Paul Theroux-type party goer (from or a parody O-Zone) of ’70s transgressions.  Under the exotica she is a fussy martinet.  Donald Sutherland is all ruthless smarm, with his power-entitled delivery of self serving logic.  There is the usual caricature of Hollywood Rome: the chariot procession and the Neronic banquets offering its guests instant regurgitation (like in a Roman vomitarium) so as to try all food.  Corporate power relies on the availability of ritual as cliche, Hunger Games exploits this and satirizes it at the same time.  StanleyTucci as the impresario is so transparently insincere that he’s actually quite honest, a sort of study in visual irony (Simon Cowell in the X Factor is simply slimy).  This shows that sincerity and honesty do not have to be synonymous.  Katniss is superior to the other contestants, her only concession to emotion is for her family, not for any leading man.  I would say that this is a film ‘about’ adolescents and young people rather than ‘for’ them.

Since it largely repeats the idea of the first film, we get the re-appearance of the good ideas – the cornucopia, the electric dome of the sky, the sky telecasting – which are a welcome elaboration but in the next film we should expect development.

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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games posterSynopsis

Set in a dystopian future, “Panem” (“Bread” as in the Roman “Bread and Circuses”) is run by an effete oligarchy who run a ruthless tribute state.  They rule over 12 districts kept in a state of 19th century industrialism.  Each district must provide two people in a “reaping” to appease Panem’s rulers.  Once selected the two will be submitted for a televised gladiatorial contest, twentyfour of them will fight it out to the death and there can only be one winner.  The contestants will be monitored by surrounding hi-tech.  Before being sent to the killing ground, the two district 12 contestants (starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson as Peta Mellark) are feasted and given celebrity treatment by Stanley Tucci as the TV prima donna.   Katniss Everdeen gets into the arena and there is a twist at the end.

Criticism

This is very entertaining but also highly derivative.  The sci-fi influences are many: 1984Logan’s RunThe Island of Dr Moreau, The Handmaid’s Tale,  Rollerball, West World, Lost, Lord of the Flies, Steven King’s Running Man, reality TV The X Factor and I’m a Celebrity Get me out of here.  Critics have talked about this being a satire on reality TV, but one should remember that some sixty or seventy years ago sci-fi predicted the gladitorialization and ritual  humiliation contestants on celebrity wannnabee TV, so this film has come full circle on that prediction by giving it an opportunistic relevance for teen audiences inured to the humiliating idiocies of Britain’s Got Talent.  The stylized broadcast hunt is then an old story in sci-fi, this film adds 21st century hi-tech to it.  The authoritarian control of resources with the consequent impoverishment of subject peoples living in industrial and craft serfdom is familiar from such as 1984, The Handmaids Tale, and Zardoz.  The juxtaposition of decadent, jaded, ruling classes surrounded by primitivized  resentments is pretty well worn, but it works to a degree in this film.  The ruling classes are dressed like 1980s New Romantics in a mixture of Blade Runner post modernist stylistic absurdities parading in some Roman court presided over by Nero or Elagabalus.  This closely replicates Zardoz and reminds me of that Joni Mitchall song from 1985 about the parasitism of the privileged on poorer people, they will resort to artifice (hi-tech games), brutality (killing), and innocence (the exploitability of vitality all for vicarious gratification).  Woody Harrelson is amusingly cynical as their contestants’ mentor and is an ex-winner.  Jennifer Lawrence hones her hunting skills as she did in Winters Bone.  Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones send up the likes of Simon Cowell smarmily ready to set up victims for the mob’s amusement.  Donald Sutherland is the big boss reminding the games organizer that sentiment towards subject people is unmerited, their exploitation must continue.

The Hunger Games is from a teen book, so might we get another teen franchise?  I hope not.  Some of the contestants are a-moral, and all are competents.  Their self conscious petulance betray an ambivalence that militates against the genuine cruelty in Lord of the Flies.  They are too readily the puppets of Panem, and plot wise this doesn’t convince.  Why don’t they turn on their masters if they have nothing to lose?  The story itself seems more overly contrived set pieces than a convincing tale about what would happen in this dystopia.  Anyway, it’s all good fun.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in At the cinema, Film Reviews

 

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