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Film review: Reality TV plot of 'Hunger Games' is far from new

March 23, 2012|By Andy Klein
  • Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) in "The Hunger Games."
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Gale Hawthorne… (Photo courtesy…)

Every dollar Disney won't get at the box office for the $250-million “John Carter” will probably end up in the pockets of Lionsgate and the other entities behind “The Hunger Games” (which allegedly cost less than half as much). The first volume of Suzanne Collins' series about a plucky girl in a dystopic future arrived just as Stephenie Meyer's “Twilight” saga — about a plucky girl in a lycanthropic (and vampiric) present — was winding down, tapping into the same female tween/teen audience.

That demographic certainly doesn't need a plot synopsis here, but since their parents probably do ...

In a post-apocalyptic America, the government keeps the once-rebellious proles in line through force, humiliation and hopelessness. Every year, each of the 12 districts (whose labor allows the city dwellers to live in luxury) chooses, in a lottery, one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to take part in the Hunger Games. These 24 contestants are dumped in a wilderness, from which only one will be allowed to emerge alive. As the kids kill each other, the resulting mayhem is broadcast on live TV, molded into a narrative that delights the decadent urbanites and demoralizes the impoverished outlanders.

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Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, in a variation on her Oscar-nominated role in “Winter's Bone”) volunteers as a substitute for her beloved 12-year-old sister (Willow Shields). She and a baker's son named Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) — a longtime secret admirer — are shuttled off to the Games, getting advice along the way (from Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz, no less). By design, mayhem ensues.

The notion of lethal competition as reality TV is far from new. The same hook drove “Series 7” (2001), “The Condemned” (2007) and the granddaddy of them all — Elio Petri's wonderful “The 10th Victim” (1965), which — 30 years before the emergence of reality TV — laid out this subgenre's template and an amazing number of the details. And they all spin high-tech equivalents of Rome's gladiatorial contests.

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