YEP YEP – I was mere moments away from publishing this review of The Hunger Games when the news broke that contract negotiations had broken down with its director, and he would not be returning to work on what will be a hugely anticipated sequel.
The first in what will be a trilogy of adapted novels by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games was directed by the reliable Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Pleasantville). Budgeted at $78m and bringing in $153m on its opening weekend en route to a mind-boggling $312m, the film has become a phenomenon of Titanic proportions.
And why, exactly? Well, as rule #1 in the Lars Beckerman Handbook clearly states, “Follow directors, not actors.”
I mean let’s be honest, if you’ve seen the trailer for the upcoming Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, you were probably just as stoked as I was to see that it was directed by Christopher Nolan? Thought so.
Remember how pleasantly surprised you were at how tight The Bourne Identity was? And then how The Bourne Supremacy was pretty good, but The Bourne Ultimatum was pretty lame? Well, Doug Liman directed the first, but not the next two.
The source material is key. Casting is crucial. But…the director tells the story!
The story here is pretty bleak. As punishment for a civilian uprising over 70 years ago, a totalitarian government mandates food rationing, DNA monitoring, and encloses the rebels inside 12 barbed wire “districts.” Oh, and under privileged children, ages 12-18, are to be randomly selected to represent their “district” in an annual “reaping.” One boy, one girl, to be transported to the Land of Oz where they will be scrubbed and manicured, trained and groomed, to then be dropped into a fabricated jungle in a fight to the death contest.
It’s The Truman Show meets The Running Man meets Lord of the Flies meets Logan’s Run (Japanese cinema fans will also liken it to Battle Royale). But the Kafka-esque themes of big brother, over reaching government, occupy whatever street, are ultimately boiler plate backdrop to the real core of this film.
The Hunger Games manages to take on a larger than life subject matter that is an easy target, but a moving one nonetheless.
What this film does extremely well is create a world. Make that two worlds. The first one, a rural minimalist existence of peasants and desperate circumstances. Then, through the inhumane process of the “reaping,” we are chauffeured to the opulent and ultra decadent Roman Empire-esque capital city, where everyone is dressed to the nines in gaudy colors and lavish makeup.
And these citizens, the 1% if you will, all crave the blood sport that is the Hunger Games. But where they may be being sent up as the uncaring elite, there is also an unmistakable resemblance to our society’s present day television viewing audience at large. The consumer ants who can’t get enough of so-called “Reality TV.” I am still shocked by how many otherwise intelligent tax payers buy into the Kate Plus 8, Kardashian, Impractical Jokers they are being siphoned.
Stanley Tucci is excellent as the host of the Hunger Games telecast, introducing and interviewing the annual contestants. The contestants, or victims rather, are coached and manipulated to better suit the television audience. Love how he asks the fan favorite and Benetton cute ethnic child, ‘Rue,’ with a patronizing grin “Rue, you’re pretty quick, you can climb trees. Are you a hunter or a gatherer?” Aw, so cute. She’ll look adorable all curled up and dead. Dark stuff.
But make no mistake, Jennifer Lawrence is the star of this show. She is sympathetic as the daughter and sister, sent to her potential sacrifice. She is tough and virtuous once the games begin. She is romantic and ultimately heroic when the chips are down. A huge star in the making.
As much as I love Lawrence, though, I gotta say the shrewdest casting coup of the film was getting Donald Sutherland to play the President/dictator/overlord. I can’t think of a better actor to play an inhumane, totalitarian nimrod than Sutherland. In my 25+ years in Hollywood, I have never met a more unpleasant, disrespectful jerk face than Kiefer’s dad.
But I digress.
I enjoyed The Hunger Games. I just hope the franchise doesn’t live to regret letting go of Gary Ross.