With the Harry Potter films all released and the final Twilight film coming soon, the search for the next big film franchise has been quickly answered by The Hunger Games, the first adaptation of the trilogy of books by Suzanne Collins. The film is set in the post-apocalyptic country of Panem, which is divided up into twelve districts. Each year, every district must offer up a girl and a boy to take part in the eponymous games, a brutal fight to the death, which is screened across the country and controlled by an overseeing producer.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) a resident of one of the poorest districts, lives with her mother and younger sister Primrose. Unable to find work, she scours the countryside for food, hunting squirrels and birds. When the Reaping, the selection of the two entrants to the Hunger Games picks out Primrose and a baker's son Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), Katniss offers herself as a volunteer in place of her sister. Peeta and Katniss travel to the Capitol. After five days of intensive training, they are pitched against the other twenty two entrants, only one of which will emerge victorious.
Before the film has been released, there has been argument over how much of a debt the film owes to Battle Royale (2000), the Japanese film in which high school students are forced to compete towards the same grizzly outcome. Yet while The Hunger Games does share certain similarities with Battle Royale, the scenario employed by both films is used to ask different questions about the nature of different societies. Battle Royale can be seen as a satirical take on the Japanese authorities' hostility towards a youth culture which it refuses to countenance or attempt to understand. The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is more concerned with the Western world's relationship with violence and reality television.
In the run-up to the film's release, star of the film Jennifer Lawrence compared the film's subject material to the very public breakdown of reality TV star Kim Kardashian's marriage. This, a very tragic and supposedly private event, was knowingly recorded on camera and then broadcast for entertainment. In the same way that reality television is edited and staged to affect an emotional response from the viewer, in the film we see both Katniss and Peeta complicit in manipulating the audience to ensure their own survival.
Yet although the subject material is compelling, does it make for an entertaining film? The answer for the most part is yes. The film is not didactic and grants the audience the intelligence to grasp with the issues that the narrative is conveying. As the film's lead Jennifer Lawrence carries on her good work from Winter's Bone, with a performance that mixes gritty stoicism with vulnerability, unable to withstand the realities of the horrors she is being asked to carry out in the name of public entertainment. She is well supported by a cast who carry out their roles in what are rather underwritten roles.
Even though this is a fantasy film, the use of CGI is not overbearing and director Gary Ross keeps the horrific realities of the story at the forefront of the action rather than hidden away in the background.
There are problems with the film although none so great that the film overly suffers. The fight scenes are hectic rather than well choreographed and the film liberally borrows from such films as Rollerball (1975) and The Truman Show (1998).
Yet these are minor quibbles in what is a compelling start to a trilogy, which is not just for young adults but asks questions that demand all of our attention, whatever your age.