Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Hunger Games (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Hunger Games

Finally, a guilty pleasure with a bit of schmaltz and glitter that I can believe in! I'm speaking of course of "The Hunger Games," now at The Tropic, which is based on the bestseller by Suzanne Collins. The film has genuine escapist entertainment with enough verve and bravado to satisfy all. 

Every anti-authoritarian teen worth his/her salt knows the plot by heart, so I'll be brief here: There is a country called Panem. Every year they have a kind of karmic sacrifice to make amends for a past war, presumably a civil one. They hold a lottery consisting of one boy and one girl from each county and televise the battle.

Jennifer Lawrence plays the heroine Katniss Everdeen and, as in "Winter's Bone", Lawrence shines here. She is half Wonder Woman and half Alice in Wonderland with a seemingly indestructible body. Lawrence's character is smooth enough but the real charm of the film is its satisfying vibrant cinematography, possessing equal parts of a teen-age "Deliverance" (1972) with all its earthy naturalistic beauty, or a tween "Barbarella" (1968) for its flamboyant chrome interiors and costumes. Despite the allusions to these controversial films there is nothing too provocative or upsetting here. Just a medieval cat and mouse chase and melting-eyed sweeties against the world. There is a titanic bit of twilight here, yes indeed, but it is nonstop fun and the imagery alone, part  retro and part "Survivor" reality tv, contains the best forgotten flavors of 1970s dystopian cinema from "Soylent Green" to "Rollerball".

"The Hunger Games" does seem like a pastiche at times, but before you dismiss the adaptation, take heart. The film gives credit to its predecessors such as "The Wizard of Oz" or even the Apple Super Bowl ad from 1984 without killing its tributes with sap. 

The cinematic references are evident from the very beginning. Just after the credits, we are treated to what are the best known trappings from the aforementioned "Winter's Bone" (the tar paper shacks, the broken crockery, an ash brown sky) presumably as a nod to Jennifer Lawrence as well as a symbol of the apocalyptic lower classes. Not once do the many quotes from past films seem superfluous or out of place. Everything fits together in a kind of kitschy fun.

A highlight is Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, a past survivor who is an irreverent mentor. With bloodshot eyes and a velvet robe, Haymitch is a drunk Willy Wonka. Part of the interest is that you never know what he'll do. I think his character should have had a bit more to do. Stanley Tucci is entertaining as a kind of wound up puppet in cyberspace who functions as a Tv host on par with Robin Leach from "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous". 

Ultimately it is Jennifer Lawrence though, that holds this dark "Wizard of Oz in Wartime" feast alive. The camera which buzzes about like a hybrid wasp, just adores her and indeed she seems a Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds for the young Libertarians of love among us. Spaced out and emotional but driven to fight, Catniss is a Marilyn Monroe Icon fit to occupy any Merrill Lynch head office with more than a bit of Ziggy Stardust on her eyelids.

"The Hunger Games" is a suspenseful rave of retro images that delight the eye. And although revisiting a nearly exhausted theme of the hunter and the hunted, the film takes a kaleidoscope sampling  of past sci-fi cinema and mashes it into a pop art carbonated soda to make the old seem new again for the visually-occupied among us.

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