The Hunger Games – the new Twilight?

The Hunger Games is the story of a dystopian future where a nation called Panem is divided into 12 districts. Every year the title giving Hunger Games are held where each district offers a female and a male competitor who have to kill each other until only one survives…

Having a lot of hype, based on a series of bestselling youth-novels and targeting the young female demographic The Hunger Games is seen as a potential Twilight-replacement. The next “epic series” hitting the silver screen, ready to become a franchise. The question that remains is: “is Hunger Games as dreadful as Twilight”?

The short answer is: No
Continue for the longer answer to find out what this franchise does and does not do and I must say: while the movie didn’t wow me compared to Twilight The Hunger Games is a Shakespearean masterpiece.

The protagonist
It is always good if your protagonist feels like a real person and not an empty shell where you later on feel ashamed that you spent so much time with a character so bland. Compared to Bella (Kristen Stewart) Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has a profile.
Jennifer Lawrence already shined in Winter’s Bone and here her character is pretty similar to the former movie: having raised her sister because her mother didn’t care for them after they lost their father – notice that this character description far exceeds anything Bella has going for her?

Add to that her skills as an archer and hunting experience because of her growing up in the poorest district make Katniss a far more interesting and relatable character. While the story she is in is not breathtaking or constantly thrilling she at least has an arc go through which currently is a pretty rare thing in mainstream cinema.

The Games

The Hunger Games are the main conflict. Everything revolves around them so the movie has a clear direction. Yet it takes a long time for the actual games to happen. Before that there is a lot of preparation and show. In this universe the games are like Britain’s Got Talent. The problem is believability: we have yet to degenerate to a state where we kill children for television.

The character spend a great deal trying to come up with justification for this event but while the society seems to be split into poor and decadent it is still strange how watching people (CHILDREN!!) kill each other can be considered entertainment – but more on that later. That being said as soon as the actual games kick in one forgets about all this set up and focuses on the conflict.

The Battle Royale
The premise of children killing each other is not something genuinely new. The adaption Battle Royale (2000) of the Japanese novel of the same name has pretty much the same storyline except for overlong buildup. Battle Royale is a very disturbing and violent movie that throws you right into an island where students have to kill each other.

This movie is a great companion piece to The Hunger Games and should definitely be seen before the new movie.
Why?
Because it fully utilizes the concept. I was told that the Hunger Games-book-series is a pretty violent affair too but not that much has survived the transition to the big screen – which has probably something to do with the fact that this movie has to appeal to the teenage demographic.

The Hunger Games – compared to the controversial Battle Royale – is much more an industry product with a wider appeal and therefore the edges have to be smoothed out. Yes the children are still killing each other but it is never felt as very intense. Most of the time because of the quick cut one can only assume that another child went down.

I am still not sure if this movie portrays killing as horrible or as something that happens sometimes – we don’t see much conflict in Katniss’s character over the entire course except for a few seconds when she might reflect about what she has done. Still those moments are very rare – probably because they are uncomforting and not something you want to see in an “entertaining blockbuster”.

With the said industry also comes a certain aesthetic: a beautiful actress like Jennifer Lawrence can’t look ugly – even if she is out in the open for days fighting for her naked survival. She will always have a perfect Barbie-face and the scratches/bruises look very artificial on the otherwise perfect make-up. Even the dirt seems to have been professionally applied (which it was of course by make-up artists but shouldn’t the make up make us forget that we are watching a movie and not draw your attention to that fact?).

The comparisons to Battle Royale can be found everywhere and might be a tad unfair – especially if we believe the author who said she’d never heard of this story before writing The Hunger Games. Still the problem is that Battle Royale is the better movie and is a million times more intense than (most) blockbusters could ever be.

Also the characters in The Hunger Games don’t really act like their life is at stake, the children are indeed very civilized for the most part. There is even a fraction who bonds together to be stronger – which is something that might indeed happen.
Yet in a scene that completely threw me out of the movie a group of the characters go asleep without any of the four trying to seize his chance and kill off the others – this is made even worse by the fact that those characters have trained years for those games and should be ruthless as hell.

The message about society
While the movie has a lot of shortcomings there are some glimmers of potential namely the criticism of our current state of reality TV. The society is deliberately juxtaposed. The protagonists have to present themselves as attractive as possible to get sponsors – basically whoring to survive.

Especially the interviews before the games remind me of the sickeningly pathetic talent-shows that get broadcast 24/7 where you have a sappy dramatic story for every “talent” that tries to get his/her 15 minutes of fame.

Even some of the love scenes are interesting in the way that you are not sure if the characters are really feeling that way or if they just try to get the sympathies of the movie-going public.

Once again I must refer to Battle Royale which spends way less time trying to justify the premise of the games. After 16 minutes we are thrown into the deadly games whereas here we have to endure about 1 hour (or longer) until the games finally start. Also there is no real justification for this set-up. It is a scary idea that is strong enough to support an entire movie and will shock you – but it is a idea so demented society itself needs to be very demented. And while the society in Hunger Games seems idiotic they don’t seem as blood-thirsty.
Compare this to the introduction of the Battle Royale by a crazy smiling Japanese girl. The teacher smiling and clapping while the girl talks about bombs blowing people up if they don’t play a long is probably one of the strangest and most critical portrayal of our reality-TV-culture.

The elaborations of the historical backgrounds in The Hunger Games only detract and make one doubt how this world is even possible whereas Battle Royale just throws you in and leaves you scared with the thought “how could a society become like this?”. There are enough hints to get your fears going whereas watching over the top characters in ridiculously colored dresses only works for some time.

The Verdict and Moviequation

The fanbase will love this movie, there is no doubt about that. The story is very straightforward and Jennifer Lawrence helps the movie quite a bit to never spiral into the lip-biting-depths of Twilight. The movie feels overlong and is just the first of a trilogy, yet thankfully it feels like a standalone movie instead of having a forced cliffhanger at the end. There are some plotlines still to be discovered but it is a story that stands as an actual movie.

Having seen Battle Royale has notably dampened my excitement (as can be seen in the review) and there is no doubt that the Japanes movie outdoes The Hunger Games in every way. Still the movie might be the reason for people rediscovering Battle Royale – or discovering it for the first time.

So in that case the movie has already done a good deed: it made me rewatch this fantastic horror-movie .

The Hunger Games is poised to become a boxoffice success and while it is nothing mindblowing it is no insult to cinemas and might be the introduction for a teenage audience to the darker type of movies.

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Wolfgang Verfasst von:

Der Host des Flipthetruck Podcasts. Mit einem Fokus auf Science Fiction und Roboter sucht er ständig jene Mainstream Filme, die sich nicht als reine Unterhaltungsfilme zufrieden geben.

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