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James Dempsey: Teens emerge from the Twilight zone with thrilling Hunger Games


Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games

RARE are the occasions when, having spent a couple of hours waiting to watch a teenage girl’s uterus being ripped open by the legitimate father of her demon-spawn baby, one leaves the cinema feeling tired and brooding over just how very little happened. Shielding crepuscular eyes from the harsh fluorescents, cinemagoers journeyed back into the light of reality, tired and disinterested, left wondering why this teen sensation of maudlin staring and chiselled abs had become the dominant film franchise of its time, and wondering could anything ever take its place.

Such was the case back in November with The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1, when box office receipts defied the actionless tedium of that shallow series’ cinematic output to break records around the world. In a time when Disney’s John Carter, a sci-fi behemoth with literary pedigree and considerable marketing looks set to lose about $200m, the teen titans of the silver screen look like the safest bet in Hollywood.

Records, however, are made to be broken, and today sees the release of the newest teenybopper blockbuster with its eyes on you and your 15 year-old’s cash – and, it would seem, it may be worth the punt.

The Hunger Games, based on the best-selling series of novels by Suzanne Collins, is directed by Gary Ross and stars Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson and Donald Sutherland in a dystopian future that harkens back to ancient Rome. In this timeline, the bomb has dropped and North America now consists of Panem, a wealthy nation that keeps its dozen revolutionary-bent districts in line by forcing each one to send a teenage boy and girl “tribute” to an annual gladiatorial fight to the death, televised for all to see.

For those who feel disgruntled by the ascent of teenage-centric melodrama to the pinnacle of box-office success, The Hunger Games does at least offer a delicious twist on the norm. Now, even those who loathe the pubescent pouting and tender swooning of the common-or-garden adolescent protagonist can rejoice at the thought of getting to see these characters forced to duel to the death, offing each other by bludgeoning and battering, with genetically modified insects and bloodthirsty game designers thrown in for good measure.

The film offers much to its core audience of adolescent viewers, by way of bold action set-pieces, outlandish costume design (Mrs. Slocomb springs to mind) and the kind of woebegone love triangle that would give Pythagoras the hump. But more unusually for fare of this kind, The Hunger Games presents its dark future in the harsh light of day, offering a resourceful heroine who doesn’t want to win the games, rather survive them, someone that audiences of all ages can get behind when things come to blow.

And they pack a punch, emotionally and somewhat physically. While a 12A certificate was reached with a 7-second cut in this part of the world to keep the younger readers accessible, Ross’ film plays with the boundaries of its gore and violence, suggesting more than is seen, but never shying away from the stark realities of its games. While you smirk at the idea of watching a bunch of annoying kids beat the life out of each other – revenge for all those hours of watching Edward and Jacob doing nothing – when the push comes to shoving a switchblade into a child’s heart, it’s hard to not feel the dramatic weight of loss, even as a compelled voyeur in this grisly reality TV show.

The film is no Twilight, giving young women, and young men, the opportunity to see a female lead who is smart, capable and out of her depth, but one who doesn’t wait for a sparkly-skinned saviour to swoop in and save her from peril.

Already The Hunger Games is a financial and critical success, poised to make $100m dollars this weekend alone, covering its modest budget and making a neat little profit for the Lionsgate studio.

Remember that name, as having merged with the Twilight-producing Summit earlier this year, Lionsgate now looks set to become a power-player in the Hollywood system as it primes The Hunger Games for franchise dominion. And while a couple of months ago, the thought of another teen series may have made me want to bash my head in with a brick, now that I get to watch a bunch of kids doing it to themselves, I’m hungry for more.