Based on Suzanne Collins’ popular trilogy, The Hunger Games is set in Panem, the post-apocalyptic remains of North America. Twelve states, called districts, are ruled by the tyrannical Capitol. As punishment for rebelling against the Capitol, each district must send two teenage ‘tributes’, one male and one female, to compete in the Hunger Games, a televised struggle for survival where they must all fight to the death until one victor triumphs. Think reality television meets Gladiator. The film follows one of the tributes, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who volunteers in the place of her younger sister for the games, and her relationship with Peeta Mellark, the male tribute from her district.
The Hunger Games has been accused of ripping off Battle Royale, a Japanese film based on a similar concept. There are some similarities, but the theme is as old as the days of Roman gladiators. The Hunger Games acknowledges this by using Roman names like Seneca or Claudius for Capitol characters.
For the most part, the film makers do a good job that will probably please both fans of the book and those who are new to the series. Jennifer Lawrence is excellent as Katniss, managing to capture her tough, awkward yet loving personality. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta is a little bland, and Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne, a potential love interest for Katniss, has so little screen time that it is hard to care about his character, though the brevity of his appearance, coupled with the film makers’ attempts at downplaying any romantic angles, does help to avoid an irritating Twilight style love triangle (a series which The Hunger Games is often, and unfairly, compared to). The costume design (look out for Effie Trinket’s crazy costumes) and scenery of the film are decent, helping to build the futuristic world of Panem.
The biggest strength of the film is the balance between depicting the violence and fear of the arena with a critique of reality television. To survive, Katniss must make herself popular with the audience. If they like her, they will support her by sending supplies to her while she’s in the arena. By the middle of the film, she’s prepared to fake a love affair with Peeta just to gain audience support.
The film also makes several wise changes from the book. Certain details are left out, such as the giant golden cornucopia in the arena, and others are added, such as scenes between President Snow, ruler of Panem, and Seneca Crane, organiser of the Hunger Games; and the reactions of the Games’ audience.
The film’s biggest weakness is its pace. The beginning of the film seems to be a race to the tributes being chosen. The film then spends too long stuck in the celebrity and ceremony of the Capitol. It manages to slow down for the actual Games, only to rush through the last 20 minutes, trying to get the characters from point A to point B so that they can finish the film. The shaky cam parts of the film are annoying. There’s a scene towards the end of the film where the characters are running away from some kind of monster, but due to the darkness of the set and the shaking camera I can hardly tell what’s happening. The film also plays it a little safe by toning down the violence of the books, probably in an attempt to attract younger viewers.
Overall, The Hunger Games is engaging. Its strengths manage to balance its weaknesses, making for an enjoyable film, worth watching in cinemas.