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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is never in doubt about who it considers the star of this story.

Written by Shalini Langer | New Delhi |
March 23, 2012 6:29:41 pm

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

Director:Gary Ross

Indian Express Rating:***

RIDING on the stupendous success of Suzanne Collins’s trilogy,The Hunger Games has a launchpad ready from where 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.

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Ross,who has also co-written the script along with Collins,steers clear of cheap thrills and big-bucks 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 are a stab at reality television and its intent on making 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 the Theseus and the Minotaur,as well as an evening surfing TV when she chanced 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 altogether. However,the underlying theme of teen angst,rebellion against authority,sacrifice,courage,kickass gumption,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’. This is a televised event held in an arena in the ‘Capitol’ — the seat of government — where the 24 participants or “tributes” fight each other to death. The last remaining tribute is declared the winner and gets to go home.

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

The Hunger Games is never in doubt about who it considers the star of this story and Lawrence 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 to put food on her family’s table 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 crazily vibrant clothes and eating elaborately decorated menus,that must seem obscene to the 24 coming from districts where hunger is a constant and clothes hand-me-downs.

No one captures the deluded lunacy of the Capitol better than Tucci as the TV presenter of the Hunger Games,who seems to genuinely 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 come close to realising that irony or the sorrow of it all.

There is once though that it says it all in one tiny gesture: her name called out as one of the “tributes”,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.

shalini.langer@expressindia.com

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