We now turn to the subject of dystopias
It was a while since I saw the first Hunger Games, but the setting quickly returned to me. A future nation with twelve impoverished districts ruled over by one highly advanced, sophisticated city state, a little like a less cannibalizing Morlocks versus Eloi, or quite like, if you're into political parables, modern day US versus most second and third world countries. The nation's name, Panem, instantly brings 'bread' to mind, after the Latin word. It nicely links up to the idea of the Hunger Games as a way to not only punish, but also pacify the populace. Bread and circuses are the oldest means of appeasement, after all.
But those days seem over for the oppressive regime of the Capitol. Unrest is brewing in the districts after the last Games, spurred by unlikely winners Katniss and Peeta and their phony romance. President Snow is desperate to retain control and surrenders to that poorest of despot's instincts: ratcheting up police violence towards any perceived defiance. It's like they never read any history books. Or literature, for that matter. To quell the involuntary rebel queen, Snow devises the latest installment of the Hunger Games as a 'best of' trial, forcing Katniss to take up her bow once more.
The two and a half hour movie flies by without hardly ever stopping. Though the scheming politicians show a paltry level of guile (“Brilliant,” Snow nods after someone presents him with the plan to crack down on the rebels because fear will make people too afraid to rise up), which undermines the seriousness and credibility of the world, there are so many characters whizzing by that there's no time for ready disappointment. There's always some new, colorful creature popping up to claim your attention before exeunting swiftly.
Then there's Philip Seymour Hoffman. It's such a staggering thing to see him enter a scene. He plays a small part as the latest director of the Hunger Games in this rather star-studded cast that only barely avoids reading – not unlike a typical Harry Potter film – like a who's who in Hollywood. The difference is that even surrounded by the likes of Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson, let alone relative newcomers Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, it's like Hoffman exists on a different plane. The only thing he needs to do is walk into the scene, barely emoting anything, and just with the merest inflection of a grunt or careless, studied gesture, he reduces everyone in the film to the meanest level of skill. You're suddenly made aware that everyone else is acting. It's almost a blight on the film. You can't just bring in someone like Hoffman, it's the height of cruelty towards the rest.
In a different world, a better world, hopefully a future world, I wouldn't have to point out how wonderful it is to have such an unapologetically strong female lead in Katniss Everdeen. I wouldn't have to delight in how she explores herself as the active agent in her love triangle – taking up the feminine role with Gale and the masculine role with Peeta – without any judgment on the film's part. I wouldn't have to be thrilled that this feature was raiding box offices, setting a standard for more, sophisticated female inclusion in mainstream blockbusters. One day this paragraph will be bullshit and superfluous.
On that day, the cruelty of Hoffman will segue jarringly into the following: Oh, and I wouldn't mind seeing more Lenny Kravitz on the big screen.