“The Hunger Games” is a smart, barreling adaptation of the hugely popular young-adult novels that mash up gladiator-like death games with last night’s reality TV.
Directed by Gary Ross (“Seabiscuit”), “Hunger Games” is based on the first of three (so far) novels by Suzanne Collins (who co-wrote the script with Ross and Billy Ray). It effectively trades on the very bloodlust for competition that it condemns.
The action takes place in a post-apocalypse North America, renamed Panem and ruled by a totalitarian regime that stages annual death-match competitions, fought by teenagers and televised to an eager public. It’s the Third Reich with a heaping load of “Survivor,” headed by a ruthless leader (the perfectly glum Donald Sutherland).
Jennifer Lawrence (as compelling as she was in “Winter’s Bone”) plays 16-year-old contestant Katniss Everdeen. As skilled with a bow and arrow as she is soulful (she volunteers to take the spot of a younger sister chosen by lottery to compete), Katniss and her male partner Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) represent District 12, a hardscrabble place that could pass for the Depression-era Appalachia of a Dorothea Lange photo.
Katniss and Peeta are whisked off to the Emerald City-like Capitol, where the sepia tones and careworn faces of District 12 give way to fuchsia and chartreuse decadence. The elaborately costumed and coiffed residents evoke glam-era David Bowie via Dr. Seuss.
Plucked, waxed and given reality show make-overs, the contestants are then trained for battle, leaving them more prepared for the first moment of combat than the audience might be. Smaller, younger kids are quickly dispatched, and though “Hunger Games” isn’t as bloody as it could be, we’re clearly not in Kansas anymore.
After the initial, brutal scramble for weapons, the survivors head for dense forest to hunt one another, their every move captured by hidden cameras. Gamekeepers in a high-tech control room manipulate the action for better TV, and sponsors intercede for favored competitors, prompting the savvier contestants to invent crowd-pleasing gimmicks like romances and sad-sack backstories.
Though it never credibly addresses how a populace became depraved enough to tolerate, much less cheer, the slaughter of innocents, “The Hunger Games” is good enough to occasionally recall the great “Network” in its lethal presentation of America’s true favorite pastime -- television.
“Get people to like you,” says Katniss’ grizzled, alcoholic mentor (Woody Harrelson). On TV, that’s the survival skill that counts.
“The Hunger Games,” from Lionsgate, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Evans)
‘Deep Blue Sea’
The English once had a myth, promoted in the novels of D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forster, that sex was the domain of the lower orders. Edward VIII gave it a whack, and the children of Queen Elizabeth laid it to rest.
But in 1952, when Terence Rattigan wrote “The Deep Blue Sea,” it was still kicking around. Terence Davies’ movie, like the play, opens with the attempted suicide of Lady Collyer (Rachel Weisz), who has left her prim husband, a judge, for a down-and-out stud who drinks too much and forgets her birthday.
Davies pumps the already overwrought emotion in this grim material to demented levels. He stages the suicide attempt like a drawn-out love scene, to the amped-up wail of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. Instant camp.
And questionable casting: Tom Hiddleston, as the stud, looks as slippery as a seal pup, and Simon Russell Beale, as the sexless husband, is adorable.
“The Deep Blue Sea,” a Music Box Films release, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: *1/2 (Seligman)
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are their own.)