In the last decade there has been a visible movement from Hollywood to cater for a large group of young teenagers. Working on adapting smash hit novels, we’ve seen Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Twilight and Red Riding Hood. The latest in this trend is The Hunger Games, based on the first in an incredibly successful series of books by Suzanne Collins, which has sold over 3 million copies worldwide. Created from a budget of $78m, The Hunger Games casts Oscar nominated actress Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role and is clearly aimed at the audience hole left by the soon to depart Twilight Saga.
Set at an unspecified point in the future, the nation of Panem has risen in the ruins of North America. It is split into 12 districts with the main city called Capitol housing the wealthy sections of society. Each year one boy and one girl between the ages 12 and 18 are selected as tribute to compete in The Hunger Games, where they must fight to the death in an enclosed arena live on television. District 12 is the home of our protagonist Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) who nominates herself as the tribute in order to protect her young sister who is selected. Leaving the object of her affections, Gale (Liam Hemsworth) behind, she travels to Capitol with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) to be trained in preparation for her fight to the death, in the hopes that she will win and return to her family.
First lets get the obvious comparisons out the way. While The Hunger Games does bare a striking resemblance in tone to the Japanese film Battle Royale and Schwarnegger vehicle The Running Man it has far superior character development and is just a better film throughout, even with its reduced violence. Next, the more obvious comparison to Twilight: The Hunger Games is better than all of the vampire/werewolf saga. It has a seeming love triangle in there, but unlike Twilight almost all of the attention rests on Lawrence’s Katniss, who unlike Bella Swann is a strong-willed, tough female role-model that is so often missing from films. She is ‘made to look beautiful’ when she arrives at the Capitol, but even this scene is dripping in a cynicism that runs through the whole of the film. It plays with ideas of censorship and ‘narrative’ without ever becoming overwhelming or dry. This is large part to the great cast, each character from Katniss to Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) to Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) is perfect and this allows the audience to engage in a way that was not possible in Twilight.
The Hunger Games clocks in at just over 140 minutes, so is long, but at no point is it anything other than intriguing and engaging. The narrative skips along, giving brief moments of intrigue to keep the audience involved and introducing elements of the world that has been created. Like a classic 1970s science fiction film, The Hunger Games isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of social convention to present an almost Orwellian vision of the future that has strong similarities to aspects of modern life. the idea of the rich watching the poor kill each other for the chance of fame and success seems preposterous, but the film subtly questions how close to this state are we currently.
Early box office reports suggest that the sequels will be green-lit into production to grow the franchise further. It’s refreshing to have a series of films that is happy to develop characters and environment without rushing to action set-pieces. An astounding score, great cast, superb direction and an intriguing premise make The Hunger Games one of the most impressive science fiction films in recent years. And like all good science fiction it talks in broad, sweeping topics and leaves the discussion to what is right and wrong to the audience.