I just saw "The Hunger Games" today with my 10-year-old nephew and my mom (the two of them have been reading the books, which I have not been; I was just tagging along to have something to do).
From reading all the media hype, I knew the theme: Decades ago, the plebes revolted against the aristocrats and were defeated. As punishment, each year since the revolt, a boy and girl (age 12 to 18) from each of the 12 outlying plebe districts have been picked in a public lottery to compete in a (televised) fight-to-the-death, with only one winner...
That sounded pretty interesting, but I thought it would only be a "Lord of the Flies"-type thing, kids getting brutal with each other out in the woods, and I'd only watch politely. I was unprepared to be completely moved and psychologically horrified by the thing!
The ominousness of the rulers and their society was what most affected me. The smiling decadence in the face of utter horror. The Orwellian naming of blood sacrifices as "Tributes" and the accompanying pageantry designed to placate the plebes into not questioning the slaughter. The sets and costumes bizarrely (but also somehow logically) echoing a combination of Nazi/17th-century French/21st-century American/barony in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" debaucherie and insanity.
All the poor kids, upon arriving in the capitol city to prepare for the hunt/battle, are immediately given... STYLISTS charged with getting them media-ready for what is, after all, only a big annual television event for the elite city residents. (The rough-edged, plain-spoken main character, Katniss, is at first unwilling to participate in the grooming...until she sees the boy from her district waving and smiling to the crowds gathered to greet them upon their arrival and realizes that she'll have to play along if she wants to survive.) Once "The Games" start, "contestants" can also win sponsorship from elite viewers if they're likable enough -- earning needed food, medicine, etc. (Two of the 12 outlying districts have already mastered the art of gaining sponsorship, winning the majority of the contests as a result.)
The gruesome details of the ongoing battle are interspersed with
behind-the-scenes goings-on at the national TV studio, with the TV execs
attempting to coordinate with the country's leader which of the
contestants would be most popular, and politically advantageous. When Katniss -- through a combination of her stylist's costume, innate survival skills, and decent actions -- proves popular with viewers, the powers-that-be initially back her...only to figure out later that her inability to be controlled is a danger to them...
This stuff was complicated and interesting! Watching the shallow TV/games host -- played by Stanley Tucci -- interviewing the contestants on his show, I kept wondering if any of the young stars saw the irony when they were being interviewed in real life by one of the smiling, vacuous hosts of E!, etc. Other actor highlights: Donald Sutherland as "President Snow" (full of gravitas, smelling of death and roses); Woody Harrelson as a former victor, now-gone-to-seed mentor to new contestants; and Wes Bentley (neighbor-boy "Ricky" in "American Beauty") as the oblivious TV coordinator, not heeding Snow's warning to "be careful."
The second I walked out of the movie, I told my usually impatient, non-cigarette-tolerant mother, who was driving: "That was intense. I have to have a cigarette before we go." She didn't say a word in disagreement. Bad-influence-to-10-year-old-nephew also be damned. This movie needed a SMOKE afterwards.