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Audiences unsatiated by Hunger Games

By Anthony Lauriello     3/29/12 7:00pm

During long runs in high school, one of our cross country team's favorite subjects was gladiatorial combat. We discussed who would survive in a fight to the death and what our strategy would be. Unlike many students, I have not read the popular books by Suzanne Collins, but I thought, how could a movie about gladiatorial combat not be amazing?

The answer to that question lies with the deeper problems of the teen fiction genre. The Hunger Games certainly has an intriguing premise. In a post-apocalyptic world, the capital of the nation Panem holds autocratic power over its 12 districts. After a failed rebellion, the Capitol requires each district to offer up a male and a female tribute to compete in the "Hunger Games." Allusions to ancient Rome abound, from the decadent nature of the capital to the characters' Greco-Roman names, such as the amusing talk-show host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci, The Devil Wears Prada).

The plot of the film closely follows the heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, X-Men: First Class), who comes from the hapless coal-mining district, District 12. When her sister is chosen by lottery to serve as a tribute, Katniss volunteers to participate in the games.

Director Gary Ross does an excellent job of recreating the world of Panem in the first act but falls short in the second. The film chronicles the actual gladiatorial combat of the Hunger Games; it switches from the interesting exploration of a dystopia to the banal explorations of teenage drama. The brutality of having kids fight to the death is whitewashed through strategic camera angles that make the violence far more palatable. Furthermore, the characters do not develop at all, and their relationships while engaging in lethal combat resemble those of a high-school lunchroom. The attractive, blond popular kids become the bad kids who kill on sight, while the scrappy underdogs take the moral high ground as we root for their success.

That is not to say The Hunger Games is a bad movie. Ross presents the material in an entertaining manner, and the actors deliver first-rate performances. It's just that The Hunger Games could have been a great movie. We could have seen Katniss making difficult life-or-death decisions about killing to survive, or the brutality of the Games themselves. An R-rated Hunger Games that did this would not be faithful to the books or to its teenage audience, but could have been a better film. Instead, the movie settles for good in the name of broad appeal and, as a result, is instantly forgettable.

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