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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Easily Digestible

Riding on the stupendous success of Suzanne Collins’s trilogy,The Hunger Games has a launchpad from which to take off running.

Written by Shalini Langer |
March 24, 2012 3:50:02 am

THE HUNGER GAMES

DIRECTOR: Gary Ross

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence,Josh Hutcherson,Liam Hemsworth,Stanley Tucci,Wes Bentley

Rating: ***

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Riding on the stupendous success of Suzanne Collins’s trilogy,The Hunger Games has a launchpad from which to take off running. What it does is slow down,crawl and in a story so ripe for visual reproduction,inexplicably,grind to a tiresome halt.

Ross,who has also co-written the script with Collins,steers clear of cheap thrills and bloodshed,but in making it PG-friendly,he also rids the story of the starkness and pain that define it. Despite Jennifer Lawrence’s astonishing turn as the heroic Katniss Eberdeen,we don’t get “Panem”. Collins’s books stab at reality television and its focus on a spectacle. Ross’s film,ironically,seems a reality television version of it — pain and struggle in doses that are easily digestible,easily forgotten.

Collins herself claims inspiration from the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur,and an evening of surfing TV and chancing upon the Iraq war and a reality show in quick succession. The books,about an overpowering government that has risen from the ruins of America,are as much George Orwell as Stephen King,while falling back gingerly on teen romance as a diversion,and staying clear of more complicated issues such as politics. However,the underlying theme of teen angst,rebellion against authority,sacrifice,courage,as well as Katniss’s touching love for her sister,has obviously hit a chord. The fans will miss that in the film,except for some flashes.

Panem,where the story is centred,is what’s left of the US. The land is divided into 12 districts. Once there was a 13th that rose in rebellion and was crushed and obliterated. As punishment for that treason,each of the 12 remaining districts now has to send a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 every year for “The Hunger Games”,where the 24 participants or “tributes” fight to death. The last remaining tribute is declared the winner.

Katniss volunteers to go in the place of her 12-year-old sister,whose name has been picked out of a bowl. The other person picked from her district,District 12,is a boy with whom she shares an unspoken connection,Peeta (Hutcherson).

Lawrence,the real star of the movie,lives up to the challenge — brave yet vulnerable,pretty yet strong,weak yet unwavering. The others just pale in comparison,particularly the ineffective Hutcherson.

The book’s imagination of an arena of variable landscapes is replaced with one consistent forest where Katniss,who has been hunting game for her family for several years,is at an obvious advantage.

Ross and his team do a better job of imagining the Capitol as a swarm of indolently rich people,dressed in vibrant clothes and eating elaborate menus,that must seem obscene to those from districts where hunger and deprivation are a constant.

No one captures the deluded lunacy of the Capitol better than Tucci as the TV presenter of the Hunger Games,who seems to believe that his gesture of holding the hands of the 24 who are about to die is real caring. Or does he? You never are sure.

In bunching Katniss with others who are little more than blood-thirsty,screen-hugging competitors,the rest of the film doesn’t realise the irony or the sorrow of it all.

Except for that one tiny gesture that briefly shows how it could have been: her name called out as a “tribute”,Katniss’s trembling sister is walking up to the stage to what is certain death when,cameras on her,she pauses briefly. Her mother and sister nowhere near her,it’s to reach back and tuck her shirt inside her skirt.

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