President Snow (Donald Sutherland) shares his governing philosophy in this weekend’s blockbuster film, The Hunger Games: “The only thing stronger than fear is hope.” He and his kind have built their dystopia on this theory: if the people they subjugate don’t have a way to cope, they could get violent. Better to give them some pre-packaged violence and distract them.
Violent television. Now there’s the perfect distraction.
And so the odds are stacked heavily against both Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games and Ben Richards of The Running Man to win in their own futuristic sporting arenas. But they are motivated to try, each having not just their own lives but the lives of the people they love at stake. While millions of people watch, they suffer and struggle to make it to the end. The only thing keeping them going is hope.
It seems harsh to subject these characters to another bloody arena, but as the films prove, audiences love a good fight. We can’t lie. So do we.
In the first film of the trilogy based on Suzanne Collins’ novels, The Hunger Games introduces us to Katniss Everdeen (Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence), the sixteen-year-old girl who offers herself as tribute for the survival of her sister, Primrose (Willow Shields). Every year, two citizens from each of the twelve Districts of Panem are chosen at random to participate in the Hunger Games. The twenty-four tributes are placed inside a dangerous arena assembled by the Gamemakers of the Capitol, designed to ensure the survival of only one tribute. The rest of the twenty-three tributes will either die at the hands of an opponent or from the perils waiting in spots of the arena.
You may have heard The Hunger Games described as the next Twilight series (for only one reason I can think of, so Twilight haters should still give it a chance) — the love triangle. Katniss represents her District Twelve along with Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son who has had only one encounter with Katniss before the Hunger Games. Katniss’ only friend in her district, Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), promises to look after Primrose and her mother if she does not make it back alive. Gale and Peeta both want two things — change to take place in Panem, and Katniss.
The Capitol grants every tribute a team of trainers and fashion designers to aid them through the festivities of the Hunger Games in addition to preparing them for the arena. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), a former champion of the Hunger Games, leads Katniss and Peeta’s team, along with Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). With some flamboyant costumes, intriguing promotional stunts, and advice from Haymitch, Katniss and Peeta take their positions in the arena and try to take charge of their destinies.
The Defending Champion
The year is 2017. The economy is blown, the government is corrupt, and television personalities manipulate the audience into believing whatever they want the audience to believe. Yes, I said 2017, not 2012.
The most popular show on television is The Running Man, a reality show that glorifies torture and death. It’s so popular that the audience can’t even remember classics like Gilligan’s Island or the biggest icon of all time — Spock. Contestants on The Running Man television show must defeat frightening stalkers — men with personal methods of killing — to succeed.
After the government frames Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) for the murder of innocent civilians, television host Damon Killian (Richard Dawson) bribes Ben to appear on The Running Man by putting the lives of Ben’s two closest friends, Harold Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre) and William Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto) in danger. The situation for Ben reaches a new low when Killian betrays him by sticking Weiss and Laughlin into the game arena, along with Amber Mendez (Maria Conchita Alonso), the woman Ben attempted to kidnap in order to flee the country. Now, not only does Ben have to find a way to take down the deathly stalkers, but he must also try to protect his friends in the process.
Comparing these two films is like comparing a model with high fashion makeup to an ordinary person with natural beauty. The Hunger Games is visually astonishing, from the elaborate costumes and makeup to the cinematography and special effects. Seeing Gary Ross’s vision of the Capitol is like seeing Peter Jackson’s Rivendell or George Lucas’ Naboo for the first time. For its time, the visual style and special effects in The Running Man worked only because most people, men especially, weren’t worried about how the film looked as much as they were interested in the story, the choreography of the fights, and the actors like Schwarzenegger portraying the characters. Schwarzenegger himself is visually astonishing enough to attract attention (how else could he have made it in Hollywood without those gigantic muscles?). The story of The Running Man is well executed and exciting — the woman with the natural beauty.
The Running Man also doesn’t take itself too seriously in the way The Hunger Games does. When Ben first kidnaps Amber and she asks why she should cooperate, Ben lifts her and the exercise equipment she’s sitting on off the floor and says, “because I’m going to say please.” Schwarzenegger’s puns and lines like “I’ll be back” are downright laughable, as they are meant to be.
We get a different kind of laugh from The Hunger Games, but it’s not intentional. The audience in the movie theater broke out in giggles during the cozy love scenes between Katniss and Peeta in the arena, as well as the intercuts with Gale watching them from District 12. That’s not to say the chemistry between Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson isn’t perfect, because it is. These two actors seem like they stepped right off the pages of Collins’ novel. There’s supposed to be something off about their relationship, but the reactions should have been swoons and sighs, not chuckles. This could be something else The Hunger Games and Twilight have in common — serious, emotional scenes that get laughs from audiences. Or maybe this particular audience I saw the film with was just tired and delirious from staying awake for a two-and-a-half-hour movie at twelve-thirty at night.
Though the story of The Running Man is above average, depicting a society controlled and manipulated by the government and media, the romance storyline and acting is average at best. Again, Schwarzenegger didn’t make it as an actor based on Academy Award®-nominated performances like Jennifer Lawrence’s in Winter’s Bone. And it doesn’t make any sense, as much as I admire it, to have Amber turn into a resistance leader when all she did throughout the entire film was scream and run away from violence. In this case, it would have made more sense to keep the damsel in distress in the corner while the men do the fighting. If you’re looking for a good female role model who does know how to hold her own, Katniss is your girl. The Hunger Games depicts one of the few times the female is the protector and the male is the lovesick passive creature.
When the cast list for The Hunger Games was first released, enthusiasts of the novels, including myself, were leery about almost every choice except Lawrence. After seeing the film, I commend casting director Debra Zane and writer/director Gary Ross (who had script help from novelist Collins and Billy Ray) for assembling the best team of actors for the roles. Woody Harrelson could have been a bit meaner, but Elizabeth Banks and Josh Hutcherson were exceptional. It’s about to get tougher for Schwarzenegger in the Smackdown ring, since he has the only memorable performance in The Running Man. Can one man hold up a film against an entire cast?
Both films are worth seeing if you are a fan of turning the value of human life into a game for entertainment and honor. Katniss and Peeta may have a difficult time in their own arena, but they dominated this one, unlike Ben who received hits even the strongest body builder cannot recover from. This time, the odds were in the favor of The Hunger Games.