24 teenagers are packed off to the woods and encouraged to go on a killing spree against each other, while the rest of the world watches the action like a sporting event on giant television screens… Based on the bestselling young-adult novel by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is a thrilling and somewhat disturbing film about a survival-of-the-fittest reality show – and despite its highly improbable premise, it makes for enjoyable viewing.
The story is set in a futuristic version of America known as Panem, that consists of 12 districts and a controlling capital city. Each year, two “tributes”, a boy and a girl, are chosen by lottery from each of the 12 poverty-stricken districts, to participate in The Hunger Games. This is not a competition you’re happy to be selected for.
The two-dozen kids are sent to the prosperous Capitol, where they’re trained in weaponry, and styled and groomed, before being deposited in an “arena” for this fight-unto-death, from which only one victor can emerge. Of course every moment is televised and broadcast live for an eager and enthusiastic audience that can watch and place bets on the outcome. And to keep the Games constantly thrilling and exciting, the organizers have the power to change the conditions inside the arena – they can create massive forest fires, send dangerous animals into the mix, and alter the rules every now and then. It’s like a more dangerous version of The Truman Show, if you think about it!
The film rests on the shoulders of its strong-willed heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), who volunteers to fight in place of her younger sister whose name has been pulled out of the glass bowl. As a skilled hunter proficient with a crossbow, Katniss enters the Games with an impressive skill set, but it’s Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), her fellow unfortunate tribute from District 12, who figures out early on how to keep the viewers invested in them – he reveals he’s had a long crush on Katniss.
While key themes of the story – inequality and oppression, as well as the public’s appetite for reality television – are explored fleetingly, the violence in The Hunger Games appears to be considerably downplayed compared to the book, which lessens the film’s emotional impact, and doesn’t give you a strong enough sense of the brutal nature of the competition.
The romance between Katniss and Peeta never really convinces, yet the spectacle and the sheer horror of the scenario holds your attention. There are some colorful supporting characters, including Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, a former Games winner and mentor to Katniss and Peeta; also Stanley Tucci as a popular TV host with shiny blue hair. But this is Katniss’ show from start to finish, and Jennifer Lawrence makes the part her own with a delicate balance of vulnerability and steely resolve.
I’m going with three out of five for The Hunger Games. It’s far more engaging than the Twilight films to which it’s been compared. Now bring on the sequels.