The Hunger Games

26 03 2012

I like stories that try to stand out from the crowd. It seems like too many books nowadays are focused on copying the same formula in order to generate mass appeal.

Fortunately, The Hunger Games is far from formulaic. Instead of edging away from controversial topics – like watching 12-year olds kill each other with swords – it tackles them head-on. It’s a refreshing shift from the norm, and the movie adaptation is entertaining from start to finish.

The Hunger Games are an annual event in Panem, which is what North America is called in the future after some apocalyptic event destroyed most of our continent. The audience doesn’t learn much about Panem during the movie, but it’s just enough to whet the appetite and leave you wanting more.

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What we do know is that there are 12 districts surrounding the Capital. Life in these districts is primitive and short: food is scarce and modernization is far away. Meanwhile, the Capital is futuristic and overflowing with luxuries.

Every year, one boy and one girl are chosen at random from each of the 12 districts. Their prize? Getting the opportunity to kill other boys and girls in some sort of virtual arena. Citizens of the Capital love the Games and see them as a massive sporting event, while citizens in the districts live in constant fear of being chosen.

When I say ‘arena’, I don’t mean something like the Coliseum in Rome. The arena chosen for this year’s Hunger Games is a large, densely packed forest. The contestants must fight against the elements and each other in order to survive. With boys attacking girls, girls attacking boys, and makeshift alliances being formed, it’s kind of like a hardcore version of Survivor.

The premise is cool, but what else does The Hunger Games bring to the table?

Well, for starters, it has characters that are both relatable and easy to love. It isn’t difficult to sympathize with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) from the moment we meet her. She acts selflessly to protect her mother and her younger sister, and after her father died at an early age, it’s up to Katniss to lead her struggling family.

After Katniss’ younger sister is chosen to represent District 12 at the Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers in her stead. She travels to the capital for several days of training before being sent into the Arena. The plot really starts to heat up at this point, and it’s interesting to see how each character copes with the extraordinary situation. Twenty-four boys and girls enter, but only one can leave.

The film shies away from making any grandiose statements on war, reality TV, or anything else about our current society. There are certainly deeper themes, but thankfully, they’re not forced upon the audience.

Interestingly enough, Suzanne Collins got the idea to write her trilogy after flipping between channels showing the Iraq war and a reality TV show. After the two images became disturbingly blurred in her mind, she knew she was onto something.

Feel free to make your own interpretations, but The Hunger Games never feels like anything more than a pure adventure movie – and that’s a good thing.

I liked pretty much everything about The Hunger Games. I like the setting of Panem, the characters, and the extraordinary odds which they all face as they struggle for survival. As I left the theatre, I realized that I didn’t feel like reading the books: I needed to read the books.

4.5 stars out of 5