Despite taking place in the future, the initial setting for The Hunger Games appears to be rather primitive compared to modern times. However, as we later see, the divide between privileged and not is rather large. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is amazed at seeing the Capitol for the first time after growing up in District 12, otherwise known as the mining district, the poorest district in the country of Panem.
Katness Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) stars as one of two youths from their district chosen to take part in the 74th annual Hunger Games, a ceremony in which 24 kids take part in a fight to the death in front of what seems like millions of spectators who watch live via whatever medium is available. Only one can come out alive. These “tributes”, as they are called, are mere props for those who run the ceremony but are more-or-less victims of a tradition that began as a reminder from the Capitol of the rebellion of the since-destroyed 13th district.
Directed by Gary Ross, the sense of dread that encompasses nearly the first half of the movie is captured wonderfully as both Katness and Peeta prepare for their roles in the games. Knowing that only one of them, if either, would make it out alive, they essentially are each other’s competition but are still trained together by former Games winner Haymitch Abbernathy (Woody Harrelson) and assistant Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks). With the help of Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), Katness is given tips to help win over the audience and, more importantly, sponsors who may aid her during the competition. Much emphasis is placed on just how important these games are to the entire society. We see elaborate setups, both for the training and comfort of the tributes, as well as an extravagant ceremony and stage show for the actual games that serve as a reality program, all for entertainment. But for the tributes, it’s all too real.
The obvious strength of The Hunger Games comes with the actual storyline. Only because of how realistic it is in its representation of our familiar society. Though it may seem far fetched that a society would encourage sending children out to fight to the death for mere entertainment, it’s really not when put into simple terms. Violence is hailed as entertainment every day and we can’t get enough, as long as there’s a distance put between the source and ourselves, whether in movies or on the news from other countries, it’s the ratings that rule. What is made even more apparent in the story is how far those in charge are willing to go for the entertainment of the viewers, to the point of twisting the situation in an attempt at achieving a more favourable outcome. It’s rather fascinating how a film can play host to several different social aspects yet still serve as a direct form of entertainment to millions who themselves may scoff at the suggestion that they are just like the audiences in the movie.
There are some brutal scenes in the movie that have been padded to avoid being too graphic. The complete lack of foul or offensive language suggests that there is complete awareness of the audience while severe violence is kept to a minimum, where it could very well have been much more. This aspect doesn’t take away from the movie at all, where in some instances of other films it may have. We see the results and we know what’s at stake. No need to dwell on pushing the point too far. Instead, we are presented with the humanistic side of those who are the focal point of an entire world’s eye, except we see it from the inside.
Having not (yet) read the book the film was made from, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, it can be expected that the book provides greater detail of the thoughts and perspectives of Katness during the entire ordeal. The film provides a wonderful introduction to what may very well be essential reading material. My question that remains now is whether the film did justice to the book itself – that will be answered (for me) eventually. The Hunger Games serves as a better overall cinematic experience than Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but where the latter was presented as the launch of a very-well-written and presented larger story, the former stands stronger as an introduction. Of course, there are three parts to the book series while Catching Fire, the second film, is expected out at the end of 2013.