Sam Strange Remembers: THE HUNGER GAMES

Sam Strange thinks we really should consider getting one of these killer game shows going here in America. We'd be good at it.

With Harry Potter finished and Twilight's end in sight, everyone's scrambling around looking for the next big young adult hook with potential to magically transform into the next big every female on the planet hook. As a placeholder for some better idea, I thought why not do a young adult version of the "kids killing kids" genre. I wasn't that committed to the notion, but held on under the hope that maybe it was so crazy that it just might work. It turns out it was super crazy enough, and it worked its ass off.

The Hunger Games take place in a distant future run by Donald Sutherland. After a civil war seventy four years ago, America has been cut into a bunch of different districts instead of states. To say "I'm sorry for trying to overthrow you," every district has to give up two kids a year to play "The Hunger Games," a reality TV show where a bunch of kids live in the woods until all but one of them die.

The stars of this movie all live in District 12, which is the "Little House on the Prairie" district. Everyone there is poor and dirty, but they're also kind of badass because starvation has forced them into being good hunters. We meet our main character, Katnipp Everest, as she's trying to kill a deer with her bow and arrow. Unfortunately, her boyfriend, Gale Weathers, purposefully scares the deer away for the sake of a lame joke. Katnipp doesn't mind too much, since she's really in love with him. Their relationship is so strong, in fact, that it's beyond such childish needs as chemistry or affection. This is why brother/sister marriages are always the ones that last. Katnipp might also be a lesbian.

Nerves are high because it's "Reaping Day," the day when each district's "Hunger Games" players are "chosen". Katnipp is worried because she has a little sister whose name is going into the bowl for the first time. If you want to know how or why someone's name goes into the bowl, or how the bowl works in general, you need to ask someone who has read the supplemental book I wrote, Exposition and Emotional Information Regarding The Hunger Games. (And yes, in the book all the characters are black. I made some of them white in the movie so it's less culturally exclusive. White people like to watch movies too. Please stop sending me hate mail about this.)

Katnipp is right to be worried because her sister's name, Hawkface Everest, is the first one they yank. Being that Hawkface is a wimpy little girl who wouldn't last five minutes, Katnipp volunteers to take her place instead. Everyone's awed because, in seventy four years of gaming, no one has ever volunteered to take the place of a loved one. The future is filled with dickweeds.

Next, they pick a boy named Petra Haden. Petra is a gigantic wuss, but he's charming and has sunken cheekbones. See, "The Hunger Games" isn't only a survival against the fittest situation, it's also a celebrity thing. If people watching like you enough, sponsors can send you important items during the game, so being charming is important.

Now that District 12 has its team, we can leave its depressing filth and start enjoying this film's version of the future. See, all of America is fucked up except for the people who won the civil war. They're actually quite rich and happy. These people all live in what used to be Kansas City. And just like Kansas City was named with the least amount of creativity possible, after the war it was simply changed to Capital City.

On the train to Capital City, Katnipp and Petra get to meet their trainer, Heywood Jablome. Heywood once won "The Hunger Games", but since the ordeal left him an alcoholic shell of a man, the only advice he can offer is, "Even if you win 'The Hunger Games', you'll still lose your soul." Petra accepts this, while Katnipp tries to think of a way she can make it through the games without becoming a bad person.

Once they get to Capital City, they're shocked to see how the other half (1%) lives. Everyone parties all the time. No one has jobs anymore, so they get their kicks from peeing on each other and rolling around in Heinz Baked Beans. They all dress like gay five year olds. One guy has a beard cut so it looks like flames. Another dude has giant blue hair and fake Chiclet teeth stupid looking enough to stain even the greatest actor's legacy. I designed all this to illustrate how ridiculous the Hunger Games elite are. But as an added bonus, it offers any audience member not taken in by film something to laugh at.

This is where talk of sponsorship starts heating up. Katnipp is pretty badass, but no one cares because she seems like a lesbian, and no one likes lesbians, not even other lesbians. If she doesn't get the public on her side, she'll be dead right off the bat, regardless how well she can live and hunt in the wild. Therefore, she's given a beauty coach named Cinnamon. He waxes her entire body, gets rid of her unibrow, pulls out some of her tummy fat, and gives her pretty outfits that catch on fake fire.

But instead of charming people through fake means, Katnipp plays up her warrior prowess in public, which, combined with her new good looks, wins everyone over. If she were still ugly, however, it would be a death sentence. In seventy four years of gaming, Katnipp is the first lady to look like an awesome badass, so it's pretty exciting.

Petra, on the other hand, is upset. Charming the audience was his forte. Now that Katnipp has conquered that as well as the game's physical demands, he's up shit creek. So he pulls a Hail Mary and pretends to be in love with Katnipp, hoping that audience romanticism and pity will pull him through. It kind of works, and now Katnipp must pretend to love him back else alienate her Xena-esque fan base.

Once the pageantry concludes, everyone has four days to train. This is where we meet the other "Hunger Gamers". It's a pretty scary bunch. They got some kids from the black district, the fighter district, the redhead district, the preppy district, the nerd district, and even a couple aliens from District 9. Katnipp had her heart set on winning through her forest skills, but it looks like more than a couple competitors brought their A game, and she's less sure she can pull through and still be a good person.

After the training, "The Hunger Games" can finally begin. It's important to remember that this game is actually a television show. There are cameras and microphones in all the trees and even some invisible cameras that can float in the air to follow characters when they run. All over America, people gather in their town squares to watch the game on one big television. Since it's a twenty four hour show that goes on for an indeterminate amount of time, all production ceases for the season's duration. It's like a vacation for the proletariat, except they're forced to stand for weeks without food, water, or sleep.

The first episode of "The Hunger Games" is the most exciting by a long shot. Producers stack a bunch of useful items in the middle of the field, and the idiot kids run to the trap like bees to honey while one non-idiot kills them one by one. So if you were worried about keeping track of twenty four different characters, you can relax. By the time the film's villain is done hacking away, there are only a couple handfuls left. After this, the rest of the show is really boring, like a video game where the goal is to remain unseen when you really just want to shoot the shit out of everyone.

For instance, episode two is just Katnipp walking around. As is episode three. Episode four is a bit more exciting, though. Katnipp aimlessly wanders so far that she unknowingly threatens to walk right off the damn game. To keep that from happening, the people in charge of the game set the forest on fire, making her run the other way.

But that's not all. Despite her popularity, they also try to kill her with flaming cannonballs. They can CG anything they wish into reality, and flaming cannonballs seemed like the kind of thing people might enjoy. Fortunately, Katnipp dodges all the cannonballs. Because her survival undermines Capital City's authority, Donald Sutherland makes the cannonball programmer kill himself by eating a flaming cannonball.

Presumably, in the three days since the game began, everyone killed each other and only Katnipp is left. We find out in episode five that instead of killing each other, they all became best friends focused solely on killing Katnipp. Even Petra is with them. They happen to spot Katnipp and chase her up a tree where she sits for two more episodes while they taunt her from below. It's the two worst episodes of the show ever.

Katnipp's ordeal with the fire put a nasty burn on her leg, so her sponsors send her a salve that heals it immediately. Then, because something exciting needs to happen, the people in charge of the game send Katnipp some wasps to use on her sleeping pursuers. These are special future wasps which can get you high if you're lucky or kill you if you're not. Katnipp doesn't see them at first, so a sponsor sends her a note that says "Look up, dumbass." Katnipp knocks down the wasp nest and all the bad kids run away, save for the one the wasps kill. As Katnipp escapes the tree, she falls over, suddenly tripping balls off wasp juice. Luckily, Petra comes out of the bushes to yell at her face just before she passes out.

When Katnipp wakes up, two weeks and fourteen episodes have passed. Katnipp assumes everyone must have killed each other in that time, but nope. They're all still pals. There are plenty of animals and many bodies of water, so the game could presumably go on forever. The only person they actually want to kill is Katnipp.

Instead of Petra, Katnipp finds herself with a little girl named Rushmore Cobblepot. Rushmore has been taking care of her even though Petra is the last person she actually saw. If you'd like to know what happened between Petra and Rushmore or why Petra was hanging out with the bad guys in the first place, you'll have to ask someone who has read my book Exposition and Emotional Information Regarding the Hunger Games.

For the next couple of weeks, Katnipp and Rushmore become really good friends, almost like sisters. Rushmore teaches Katnipp how to do math, while Katnipp teaches Rushmore how to read. But one day, a guy throws a knife into Rushmore's tummy. Before he can kill Katnipp, too, a falling asteroid crushes him. Katnipp is still alive and still a good person.

Katnipp buries her dear friend Rushmore in the CG dirt. It takes two episodes. She's crying the whole time, but they're tears of joy because now she doesn't have to kill Rushmore herself, which probably would have threatened her run as a good person.

It turns out that, in seventy four years of the game, this is the first time a really cute kid died, and a little riot erupts over the show's cruelty. It's all under control in a matter of moments, however. Actually, this paragraph does not matter one tiny bit. Forget it even happened.

As Katnipp climbs up another tree, everyone watching at home and in dusty courtyards groans with impatience. For the first time ever, "The Hunger Games" is so boring that its 300,000,000 poor viewers are beginning to ignore it and instead ponder how there are only 500,000 people in Capital City, and maybe they can be overthrown. So the powers that be energize the game with hope. They change the rules so that now two people instead of just one can win "The Hunger Games" so long as they come from the same district and have the initials K.E. and P.H.

This means the star crossed lovers might actually make it out alive and still be good people in the process. So Katnipp goes looking for Petra. She finds him when, while walking on some rocks, she accidentally steps on his face. See, Petra used to make birthday cakes back in District 12. So out in the wilderness, he can use these skills to camouflage himself. If he wants to blend in with trees, he just makes a Bark Cake and shoves it all over his face. If he wants to look like rocks, he just makes a Pebble Cake and shoves it all over his face. It's all just flour and eggs.

Petra has a gash on his leg, so Katnipp puts him in a cave where he bakes a Cave Cake and shoves it all over his face. Sponsors send them more salve but it only works if they have sex first.

By now we're at episode fifty eight. And except for the sex, nothing has happened for weeks. Eventually, Donald Sutherland drowns the show runner for picking a location with such an abundance of water. The new show runner gets busy right away by mustering a handful of CG Panther Pit-bull Mountain Lions. While Petra and Katnipp are sleeping, the Panther Pit-bull Mountain Lions kill everyone else in the game, so they wake up champions!

But then, the games rules are suddenly changed so there can only be one winner again. Instead of killing each other like Donald Sutherland wants, Petra and Katnipp hatch a plan to commit suicide with poison berries, therefore denying Donald Sutherland any winner at all. After seventy four years of games, no one has ever fallen in sponsor-scripted love before. And after seventy four years of games, no one has ever tried to deny Donald Sutherland a winner through mutual suicide before.

They both swallow the berries and die, but the show runner brings forth a CG nurse to resuscitate Katnipp but not Petra. So she wins, and she's a big celebrity, and she doesn't have to pretend to love Petra anymore, and she only killed people with wasps, so she's still a good person.

(three stars)