Dystopia is not a new genre in literature and cinematography. Dystopian worlds have been described in the novels of such writers as Herbert Wells (the weird symbiosis of Morlocks and Eloi in “The Time Machine”), Yevgeny Zamyatin (“We,” an ideological and stylistic predecessor of a number of modern dystopias), George Orwell (whose “1984” does not need an introduction), Aldous Huxley, and many others. Speaking of cinematography, one should definitely mention “Brasilia,” “Johnny Mnemonic,” “Dark City,” “The Matrix,” “Blade Runner” (along with a whole bunch of cyberpunk movies, such as the new “Total Recall” and “Judge Dredd”), “V for Vendetta,” “12 Monkeys,” and so on. These are the masterpieces of the genre, and there are few movies or books made nowadays that would be able to surpass them.
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Unfortunately, dystopia has become a popular genre recently; I say “unfortunately,” because for some reason unknown to me, the style, storylines, and characters in modern dystopian novels and movies are simplified, flat, and one-dimensional. One of the most convex and distinctive features of almost any dystopian work is its atmosphere; usually, it is dark, full of hopelessness and paranoia—the future is predetermined, the present is monitored and controlled, and the past is forgotten. Each person in a dystopian environment has his or her own strictly-regulated place, and opportunities to change something are naught. Sooner or later, such an environment breeds a character—unsatisfied with the way things are, usually—who starts testing the limits of what is permitted and what is not. From this confrontation of an individual and an omnipresent, overwhelming system, main conflicts, relationships between characters, tensions, and plot twists are born. A classic dystopia is a gloomy, static world in which only a few people out of billions are “awake.”
Now, if we take a look at modern dystopias commonly created for teenagers (and I have nothing against teenagers, I am just commenting on the trend), we will see that they have little or nothing in common with classic, real dystopias. What they mostly do is create a picture of a not-so-distant totalitarian future, chalk out the good and the bad guys with rough strokes, and clash them against each other… well, because of reasons. Logic and clear motivation are something not relevant to the majority of modern dystopias (I will return to this statement a bit later). One of the brightest examples of such a dystopia is the movie called “The Hunger Games,” filmed after the same titled novel by Suzanne Collins. I am happy that I have never read the novel, because if it is at least half as bad as the movie, I would probably have a nervous breakdown.
Wikipedia defines “The Hunger Games” as a science fiction dystopian adventure movie, and oh boy, science is nothing this movie has in common with. Whether it is a dystopia is also a debatable question, so let us think of it as simply a piece of fiction. So, the events of the movie take place in the supposedly distant future, in North America. There had been a terrible war, the continent is devastated, and the remnants of American society had formed the nation of Panem. This society is Unfair and Totalitarian (yes, in capital letters); Panem’s minority had formed the Capitol, a lavishly-rich, technologically-advanced, and surprisingly-stupid layer of Panem’s society, whereas the majority had been divided into 12 districts. The districts live in poverty: as the movie states, people starve to death, suffer from diseases, flaws and stupidity of the movie’s script, and other similar misfortunes. Some time ago, there was a rebellion attempt: districts tried to overthrow the dictate of the Capitol, but failed. Since that time, in order to ensure obedience and to punish the rebels, the Capitol has established The Hunger Games: every year, each district must provide one girl and one boy for participation in a cruel TV show, in which they have to kill each other, and only one child can become the winner. The winner and his/her district are generously rewarded with food and something else (I just don’t remember, because it does not matter), and left alone until the next Hunger Games.
Before I proceed to the plot, I would like to elaborate on some elements of the story. First of all, the whole concept looks like a bad mix-up of “The Running Man” by Stephen King, and “Battle Royal” by Takeshi Kitano: the former had a TV show in which criminals were killed in the most cruel ways, and the latter had an island on which children were made to kill each other. Next: what the hell is this form of punishment the Capitol came up with? How can one ensure obedience by annually taking away children from people? How does it even work: “Hey, listen, there was a rebellion like a hundred years ago, so it is your fault now, and to punish you, we will take your children and make them kill each other, because this will make you obey us.” What?!
In fact, the whole storyline feels more or less the same: the movie offers us a piece of the story that is supposed to show how awful this society of the future is, and then turns it into something so absurd that it just makes you shrug in bewilderment. Katniss Everdeen, the main character, volunteers for participation in The Hunger Games in order to save her little sister, who was chosen by the Capitol; her partner is Peeta Mellark (weird name, sounds like a bun used for making falafel, so I will call him that from now on), who is in love with Katniss. Yes—and what did you expect: it is a dystopia for teens. When they arrive in the Capitol, some alcoholic guy starts giving them advice on how to attract sponsors, and I wonder: what for? Then, the alcoholic says that sponsors can provide gifts—to whom? Katniss, Falafel, and other participants? But 99% of them are going to die anyways. To districts? But the whole show is a punishment for a rebellion. What kind of punishment is that? “Hey, you bloody rebels, here are some gifts for your district.” Just meh.
Anyways, the duo starts to gain popularity after Katniss’ stylist creates outfits with fire effects for them to participate in the tributes’ parade. Like, you see, in the distant future, not a single person in the whole technologically-advanced Capitol had ever seen fiery effects throughout the entire history of The Hunger Games. And what is this whole idea about the parade? Sounds like whoever wrote this had a problem with their prom night dress or something. So, whatever: Katniss and Falafel gain popularity, and the public likes them, which only grows after Falafel confesses his love to Katniss. The game begins, some participants die on the first day in boring clashes, and Katniss decides to stay away from other participants to increase her chances of survival. For some reason, the Head Gamemaker (Game Headmaker? Ham Rainmaker? Lame Undertaker?) is especially interested in Katniss—this is because she is a Divergent… oops, sorry, that’s a different franchise. But he is indeed interested in her for no obvious reason, so he arranges a huge forest fire to simply force Katniss to get closer to other participants. She gets ambushed, then Falafel saves her, then she meets a girl, then the girl dies. Really, these events do not affect the story at all, so there is no point in elaborating on them.
The alcoholic guy convinces Lame Undertaker to change the rules so that there could be two participants that can win The Hunger Games and not just one—provided that these participants are from the same district. This attempt to save both Falafel and Katniss fails, because after a sequence of other insignificant events that do not influence anything, the rules change again, and there can be just one victor now. Falafel tells Katniss to kill him so that she can survive, but she convinces him to commit suicide by eating poison berries as a protest against the Games. And right before Falafel gets himself a new filling, Lame Undertaker announces both him and Katniss as the two victors of The Hunger Games—AGAIN changing the rules for no obvious reason. After this, the alcoholic guy warns Katniss that she has made a lot of enemies (just how?!), then something else happens, and the movie is over.
The storyline is abrupt, illogical, and full of inconsistencies. I never read the book, and I assume it might be a masterpiece equal to Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation,” but the movie based on it is just dumb. The characters seem to be acting on random impulses, their motivation is as primitive as a goldfish’s, and the way they look, by the way, makes you think they spent their entire lives in comfort and sloth, not in hunger and hard labor. The guy who was responsible for casting must have screwed up a bit, because Katniss looks like a well-fed, rich damsel who has never spent a single day in a district, and the same applies to many other “hungry” characters in the movie.
The acting… well, it is there, but this is honestly all I can say about it. Better than a school performance and decent enough for a teenage dystopia, let us not be picky. Camera work, especially during action scenes, sometimes made me think that the operator was drunk—or that he was so in love with mockumentary movies that he decided to use a shaking camera wherever he could. I cannot say anything about the soundtrack, because I don’t remember it, and I guess this is all you need to know about “The Hunger Games.”
If you are looking for a well-made dystopian movie, try “Brasilia.” Try “Dark City.” Try “1984” at least. But do not touch “The Hunger Games”—this is pure disappointment.
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