Saturday, March 24, 2012


All right, it is not going to be one of the greatest movies to be enthroned in the altars of world cinema.  In short, cineastes and the most obtuse of the film scholars will not and will never even consider The Hunger Games as anything more important than a small bag of Doritos --- with matching nutritional value.

We are not even talking about major Oscar material here (not this soon anyway ... considering we still haven't gotten over trying to understand Terence Mallick's movie, right?).  But the point is that ... well, I like it ... and I am not going to apologize for liking it.  I was even on the verge of loving the movie.

I do not feel guilty for really, really liking a movie based on a young adult novel ... and has swarms of fans now screaming Team Gale versus Team Peeta.  

I do not feel any less of a human being because I read all the novels of Suzanne Collins comprising the trilogy (and that I have also read her previous series featuring Gregor the Overlander).  And, yes, again: I do read young adult novels. 

Even at my age, I find these materials of such vast and varied interest ... because it goes beyond the popcorn ease of breezing through a James Patterson crime novel... or going through the emotional wringer of Nicholas Sparks, right? And you do not have to go through all that seeming made-for-tv sort of narrative of Jodi Picoult.

Reading Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why or Matthew Green's Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend should give you an extra kick and definitely much more intellectual premium than say ... spending six hours Facebooking or indulging in Twitter for your next emotional meltdown.

But enough of my paperback literacy.  I am writing this because last night, amid a day characterized by Murphy's Law, I decided to attack the movie house and watch Hunger Games alone.  And I felt good after.  No, that stands to be corrected. I felt very, very good.  I forgot that that very afternoon, my PC crashed. And that my car needs to have the battery changed.  Or that certain days prove that life can be a bitch.  That's how good a nice cinematic experience can change your entire disposition about the meaning of human existence.

I actually went home feeling good.

I actually went home feeling good because even if I read the novel (the first is the best of the trilogy), I did not feel shortchanged. Well, Harry Potter's movies did not make me feel shortchanged either ...but after a while, all those wizards and ghouls can be a bit overbearing.  But Hunger Games was not at all out to impress.  It was just there.

Despite the fact that this movie has been hailed as the most awaited franchise to hit the screens, the results were satisfying on both the box office and the critical levels as well.  Hey, it is not that easy to make close to twenty million US dollars on the first set of midnight screenings alone, much less harvest more than a hundred million dollars on your first three days of showing --- when you have the first of an untested franchise, right?  Better yet, how could you possibly fail if you get relatively good reviews which are best deserved.

Yes, the fallout expectations were still there because the book was much more violent (and therefore more effective) in illustrating the inhumanity of it all ... and the irony of reality television where the suffering --- real and simulated, intense and stupid --- of ordinary people can be translated into sadistic, voyeuristic entertainment.  

The movie has been watered down (booed, of course, by those who want to see teenagers gorge each other's eyes out or disembowel another's digestive system) for reasons of audience rating. I mean, how can you possibly get all those tweens and teens and eternal teeners into the moviehouse if you get an R-18 rating, right?  That does not only poop on the whole excitement bit ...but a damn setback to the box office receipts.

Besides, if you want violence to the level of the surreal like Quentin Tarantino's ... then go look for a DVD of Battle Royale, that Japanese film shot in 2000 and allegedly the template for Hunger Games.  If you want high school kids (complete in their Tween Hearts school uniforms) kill each other in the most violent fashion possible, then watch this Japanese piece.  Hunger Games had its share of demented, violence-crazed kids --- but they are not exactly Gogo Yubaris from Kill Bill.

Instead, Hunger Games worked on different levels. If you're into all the oh-oh-ohs and swooning for Who Gets the Girl, then you will have your share: Boy-Next-Door Gale or Intense-Thinking-Lover-Boy Peeta? If you want a touch of pain that is so infamous among Filipino producers (I can almost hear members of the Creative Department of Star Cinema cooing, "Where's the heart? Where's the pain? How will the audience empathize? Where is the hook?"), you have it here as well.  At the same time, the movie takes extra caution not to go to the level of the saccharine sappy (which the Twilight series seemed to dedicate so much of its screen time to create an overkill) or the downright unforgivably corny.

All right, all right: you don't have tousle-haired Edwards or the Hulk-like muscles of Jacob ... but instead you are given permutations of the same templates in more human and humane terms.  And one thing I love about Hunger Games (the novels and the first installment film) is that the heroine is no angst-ridden What-am-I-gonna-do-with-my-miserable-life sort of schlep who is in constant vacillation and is actually just in dire need for a good dosage of primordial copulation (Translation: What Bella really needs is a good f--k to shut her up). 

Instead, Katniss Everdeen is a survivor: armed with the instincts of a hunter, warrior and mother, even her weaknesses become her strength when placed in an arena that hails the survival of the fittest.  That eternal love triangle that involves the heroine and her two boys is not your cut and dry high school teen romance. The film never overplayed it --- but obliged the audience with an ample supply of scenes to elicit the sighs that they paid for.

But more important is that the Hunger Games goes beyond the template of young adult blockbusters.  Harry Potter had his magic ...but Hunger Games provides a socio-political satire that lacerates the very flesh and fabric of government and society today.  Set in a post-apocalyptic America (very much like the premise given by Battle Royale) wherein the youth are sacrificed to atone for the sins of the generations before them, Collins gives an insight into the world of media circuses providing entertainment to numb the population into false beliefs and subjugation.

This, together with the idea of the inhumanity of reality television, is what makes Hunger Games as a social commentary hit the mark.  The dehumanization of young people to be pawns for the entertainment of the audience, the exploitation of feelings and thoughts in the name of survival (and therefore winning) to earn audience approval ... and financial sponsors are no longer stuff made for fantasies.  They are very much in the here and now.

The control room where the Games are manipulated by omniscient technicians that provide tests --- both challenging or downright stupid --- to measure the durability of the Tributes is no different from what we see on reality tv shows. Even local franchises practice this power to teach contestants lessons and appreciate their learning --- and to empower them to be better human beings. Or even become heroes.  Yeah, right.  What it still boils down to is the discovery of celebrities who are recognizable and therefore purchasable. What it is all about is really simple: to entertain, to amuse and to provide folly --- even at the expense of another human being's dignity.

That is what Hunger Games all the more haunting: the idea --- the very idea --- that we are not looking at a world imagined decades or centuries from the here and now.  What is being illustrated by the movie --- is the here and now.  When governments use media to perpetuate what they want to be known as truth --- when hope is falsely given by manipulated elements (like everybody loves star-crossed lovers because they will get more sponsors) or when emotional blackmail becomes the main course of every media menu --- then we know we are in much deeper trouble than we ever imagined.

Why?  Because we are not even aware of how media rearranges our brain cells --- and make us believe the two-dimensional (or even 3D ) images they flash to condition us.  In the name of entertainment, we are not only de-sensitized.  We are made downright dumb. And brainwashed.  And turned into social zombies cheering for make-believe or synthetic heroes.

OK. I have said my piece: I hope the reader finds time to catch the movie, grab the DVD ... and even compare this with Battle Royale. 

Yes, I love reading young adult novels.  They are not only easy to read.  Sometimes, they have more to say because they are not pretending to be anything else than what they want to serve in our lives.

May the odds always be in your favor.

1 comment:

  1. Sir, I love that you made your own 'critique' of The Hunger Games. I've been feeling awful lately because some people would say that the movie didn't give the book justice.. and then I read this and realize that yes, after watching the movie, I had never felt more light and entertained in my life! It is what it is, and I loved it!