Youth literacy is a good and fine thing but it seems to me that after Look And Learn and The Cat In The Hat something is going horribly wrong with it. We aren’t done with the old Twilight yet but already we have the new Twilight – again based on a bestselling book saga.

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I understand why teen fiction might be a simplified version of adult fiction but I can’t see why, on the evidence of the films, they don’t have an original idea in their heads and can’t even deliver their hackneyed conceits coherently or with any zest.

The idea of a TV show where kids are forced to kill each other until only one survives isn’t tired because it is a rip off of the Japanese movie Battle Royale but because it is so much less disturbing than the reality of what a fading celebrity will put themselves through for a few more moments in the limelight.

The Hunger Games’ vision of a future divided society seems like something concocted in the 1970s. The poor scavenge for food in the woods while in a swishy door city, which looks like something from Logan’s Run, an effete, decadent elite flounce around in eyeliner and bad wigs like Quentin Crisp playing a Blake’s Seven baddy.

It would be easy to read it as a right-wing tract. It picks at scars of the American Civil War (the games commemorate a bloodily oppressed uprising and contestants are selected from districts that rebelled), it’s homophobic and praises a survivalist lifestyle.

Hunger Games follows the Twilight model in seeking maximum return on a minimal investment. The special effects are ropey and all expense has been spared in the hope that they can coast along on the appeal of its young stars. Indeed, Jennifer Lawrence is tremendous in the lead role.

Pre-publicity suggested that this would be the Twilight of the Good – a smarter, sharper blockbuster. But it’s stubbornly dopey. The premise works neither as prophecy nor allegory and the games themselves are nowhere near as tense as they should be – mainly due to some slack and illogical plotting.

It’s also unpleasant watching kids as young as 12 get impaled on spikes. All it amounts to is audiences watching a grotesque spectacle about audiences watching a grotesque spectacle.

THE HUNGER GAMES (12A)

Director: Gary Ross

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Stanley Tucci and Donald Sutherland

Length: 142 mins

**

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