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06 Apr 12

Hunger Games Offer Feast of Top-Class Violence

The teenage fantasy film all too convincingly conjures up a post-apocalyptic America in which human sacrifice has become a horrific state ritual.

Andrej Klemencic
BIRN Belgrade

The Hunger Games trilogy succeeds where the Twilight saga fails. | Photo courtesy of Millenium film

Ever since the money pool spawned by the Harry Potter phenomenon started draining away, studios have seemed clueless about how to make risk-free big money again. But after some reflection they’ve remembered that rain or shine, teenage movies are always in and, coincidentally, two series of young adult books were on the market, both written in the hope of being transferred to the big screen.

The Twilight saga and the Hunger Games trilogy are both based on fantasy events, but while the Twilight films were mostly embarrassments to the film genre, the Hunger Games are anything but. 

In the Hunger Games trilogy writer Suzanne Collins sets the stage in the US after a civil war that has taken place in the near future. The Capitol, the centre of political and military power, is punishing the 12 districts that have rebelled against it by sacrificing young adults.

Every year a teenage boy and a girl from each district is chosen to fight to the death in an outdoor arena. They must fight against each other and the elements until one prevails.

The use of natural light, shaky camera work and the absence of foolish-sounding dialogue all make you merge quickly into the world of teenagers who left their rural surroundings in silver chariots in order to sacrifice themselves.

The woman who selects these human “tributes” reminds one of a 1940s cabaret singer from Nazi Germany, while the train to the Capitol is in Art Deco style.

Frequently such parallels appear in Orwell-inspired books and films addressing one form of apocalypse or another, but they rarely work well. Either the metaphor is too obvious or too sophisticated. The Hunger Games have no such problem.

Once the human tributes reach the Capitol they are trained in military skills, but even more intensely in self-presentation and PR in order to attract sponsors whose donations can help them last longer in the kill-or-be-killed game.

While the world of the Capitol, in which people are detached from emotions and made to look like androids, clearly borrows from Blade Runner and other sci-fi films of the time, director Gary Ross has managed to conjure up a genuine world in the Hunger Games. Using bizarre and burlesque characters, Ross excellently depicts the perverse media of the 20th and 21st centuries and its destructive tendency to promote folly and violence.

Despite this film being PG-13, there is much graphic violence. That, however, serves merely as a backdrop for the prevailing feeling of unease that the post-apocalyptic world is supposed to trigger in the viewers.

Director Ross also manages not to reduce teenagers to some form of state of adolescent ignorance or budding sex-appeal, avoiding making them look or act like adults.

New stars Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, who play the leads, join a big cast of A-list stars led by Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrleson.

Although big names are frequently used in blockbusters to make films look more serious, these leads are more than adequate and they suit their roles well.

One has to wonder why it is necessary to base quality films for adolescents on such violence, even if it’s highly sophisticated violence. Despite that caveat, the Hunger Games succeed in almost everything else, making this smart, stylish and well-made film a must-see.

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