Last night, I saw The Hunger Games in a theater packed with about 1,000 teenage girls. (Seemed like that many, anyway.)
The movie, based on the book by Suzanne Collins, takes adolescent alienation to its murderous conclusion. In a yearly televised death match, boys and girls from the 12 districts of a post-apocalyptic U.S. nation called Panem are forced to kill or be killed in the arena. It’s The Running Man meets 90210.
In one sense, The Hunger Games is an indictment of TV — a critique of American’s unhealthy obsession with “reality” television and violence, and the dangers of mass-media manipulation.
If people just stopped watching, there wouldn’t be a Hunger Games, District 12’s boy-back-home Gale says early on to our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (capably portrayed with a Dust Bowl flat affect by Jennifer Lawrence).
The oppressive Capitol regime uses a kind of “TV everywhere” to keep the districts in line. The masses watch every minute of the carnage on big-screen screens in public squares, and hidden cameras in the arena track the “tributes” in Orwellian fashion.
With catlike cunning, Katniss (spoiler alert) outsmarts the TV show’s masterminds to win the favor of the Capitol audience and emerge victorious. That sets the stage for a showdown with Panem’s President Snow (Donald Sutherland, whose avuncular whiskers make him too cuddly to be truly frightening) in the series’ next two installments.
We’re to be horrified by the gladiator combat and the Hunger Games’ fundamentally cruel premise. But at the same time, the kid-on-kid violence is central to the story’s appeal. I cringed when the 13-something crowd loudly cheered the brutal deaths of Katniss’s rivals.
For a really innovative mashup, I’m waiting for Little Bear’s Hunger Games. The ursine naïf would be offed in the first five minutes. But kids, please: Don’t try this at home.
Programming Note:TV Everywhere will be a key topic at next week’s MCN/B&C Breaking Through: Innovating Cable TV, Thursday, March 29, at New York City’s Roosevelt Hotel. Speakers include Time Warner Cable’s Peter Stern, Panasonic CTO Eisuke Tsuyuzaki, Cox’s Steve Necessary and Carlsen Resources’ Ann Carlsen, plus execs from Nielsen, Verizon FiOS, SeaChange and ActiveVideo Networks. Click here for more info: multichannel.com/innovation.