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‘Hunger Games’ really satisfies

By Staff | Mar 28, 2012

Bon appetite!

Judging by the astronomical popularity of adaptations of ‘young adult’ novels into feature films, imaginative and provocative authors that cater also to ‘adults’ should chain themselves to computers and churn out creative stories for Hollywood moguls. Either the fresh material is not available for acquisition or movie executives are like lemmings, only seriously examining that which works for tremendous tent-pole returns.

“Hunger Games,” which premiered recently in Huntington, launches another movie franchise just as “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” have entertained, only to now have reached or be reaching in November their conclusions.

Voted 87% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, “The Hunger Games” weaves a science-fiction time frame into allegorical symbolism, ala”Survivor,” “Network,” “The Truman Show” reality TV, “Brave New World,” and “The Running Man.” Despite the fighting to the death gladiator games, the production does not overly dwell on the countdown to the finish, thus, its intense scenes have a detached sense of fantasy. One reader downplayed the violent context of the games stating the book/movie underscores “fighting back,” not glorification of killing.

Set in a nation that endured a long war, the peace came with a costly reminder to prevent future treason – each year the districts (states, provinces) offer a boy and girl in their teens for a “sacrifice” in a televised Olympics/gladiator battle until only one heart remains beating. It’s not dependent on the survival of the fittest, the opulent society injects viewer and governmental manipulations, which assist in a “fixed” winner. The tribute sacrifices adorned in pageantry or Red Carpet-style fashion vie for “sponsors,” (also known as “friends”) whose donation may mean a parachute bag filled with an item need to gain an advantage or heal an injury. Finally, the moderator injects conflict when the killing games are taking too long or an underdog looks to beat a favored contestant.

The brutal totalitarian (dystopian) government prefers a psychological component as its ace against any uprising. The games (like a lottery) provide a dash of hope, but the leader (played by Donald Sutherland) cautions that too much hope can be lethal.

Filled with allegorical symbolism and political satire, “The Hunger Games” strongly alludes to involuntary conscription (draft) and, too, the all volunteer armed forces trained to kill. It’s not much of a stretch to add class separations, the stereotypes that go with upper and lower classes, ultra materialism and governmental controls and manipulation. Parading the “tributes” reminds me of a line from the Roman coliseum in “Ben Hur”: “Those who are about to die salute you.” Or, a grim beauty contestant runway walk that conveys horrific implications to a condemned prisoner’s last meal.

Fighting the underclass stigma has an affinity to much maligned West Virginians. Many of the citizens of the futuristic District Twelve earn their living by mining coal. In fact, the young heroine’s father perished in a coal mine disaster.

Keith Simeton, managing editor of Internet Movie Data Base, explained, “although it’s a brutal dystopian future, the games themselves are obviously brutal and harsh, the way director Gary (“Seabiscuit,” “Pleasantville”) Ross has handled them is not gratuitous. You do not feel as if he has done anything exploitive, which was a smart move.” To the director’s credit, “you know (the deaths) are going on, if you choose to pursue that with your imagination that’s up to you.”

Aside from all the grown-up turmoil, teenage Katniss Everdeen (played by Jennifer Lawrence) has typical adolescent issues, which to Lawrence’s credit emerge more from acting nuances than lengthy dialogue. Her character has all the “how can I make friends” and “how do you make people like you” quandaries but Lawrence has the ability to convey some of her character’s inner struggles and emotions allowing viewers to easily grasp complexities, such as making compromises yet staying true to herself.

Initially, the Oscar-nominated (“Winter’s Bone”) Kentucky native’s bow and arrow hunting expertise sends signals of a strong, independent, do-it-all persona, yet, this is balanced by her compassionate and courageous gestures, which glorify femininity as a strength.

Unlike “Twilight’s” love threesome which dominates the series, “Hunger’s” first installment has a more “Harry Potter”-like beneath the surface romantic nature. For non-readers, “Hunger’s” two dudes (Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth) favoring the same gal stays superficial until late in the storyline.

The young tributes possess wisdom and courage beyond their chronological ages, such as a naive observation that the brutal sacrifices would end if viewers simply stopped watching the games. Ironically, President Snow’s (Sutherland) statement that “freedom has a cost,” could have come from the mouths of American politicians then and now who have advocated war to preserve or expand peace. The cost comes in lives of soldiers and a nation’s economic turmoil from funding fighting.

Although many in the Huntington crowd had waited months for the picture, one man came for a very simple reason: “My granddaughter asked me to come.”