The Hunger Games takes place is a post apocalyptic, dystopian North America. The ruling Capitol City of Panem defeated a rebellion by 12 districts 75 years prior to the start of the movie. As punishment for their uprising, each district is required to, once a year, send 1 boy and 1 girl between the ages of 12 and 18 to compete in the annual Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is a reality TV show where all 24 teens must fight to the death while all 12 districts must watch the games play out on TV.
The point of the games is to continue to punish the districts for their uprising, intimidate them against future uprisings, and assert the dominance of the ruling party of Panem.
In Districts 1 and 2, children are trained from birth to win the games. As a result, the winner is usually from one of these districts.
The movie follows the story of Katniss Everdeen, the girl chosen from District 12. Her younger sister was actually chosen in the annual drawing, but Katniss volunteered to take her place.
The characters go through an intense personal journey as they meet the other tributes from other districts. In the time leading up to the games, they have to get used to the idea that they are going to die brutally soon, or that they are going to have to brutally murder other children soon. Most of them will encounter both fates since there can be only one winner.
As you can imagine, this is a violent movie. The focus is on children killing one another for the entertainment/intimidation of the entire society.
The violence is not even the driving theme for the movie. It's the commentary on Reality TV. The way the producers run the games and manipulate players is an important part of the movie. It's not too difficult to imagine a show like this as the natural extension of what already airs on cable channels across the airways. It gets into fascinating areas of hope, love, story-telling, and more, in a very dark way.
In addition to the knowing-they-have-to-kill-each-other thing, the kids also have to learn to appeal to sponsors. Like on American Idol where winning fans is the key to success, appealing to fans and sponsors in the Hunger Games can mean bonuses during the game that make the difference between life and death.
That leads to another interesting aspect of the film. At times it reminds me of a role playing game as characters learn new skills and "level up" throughout the game. They acquire loot and gain experience points. That could just be me reading too much into forest quests with swords and bows, but it helped involve me deeper in the film.
The cinematography is excellent. The film manages to maintain an intense feeling of fear and sense of violence, while minimizing the graphic nature of it through subtle camera work. In the heat of a massacre, they are are still able to maintain a PG13 rating.
The sound design was even more impressive. They adjusted the sound to what the characters were hearing, made excellent use of background audio, and effectively created an immersive surround sound environment.
The Hunger Games is long movie. It may have been possible to tighten up the earlier parts of the film, but that's tough to say. There is a lot of background information the movie needs to convey. It tries to do that while minimizing the exposition, and that is a tough challenge. According to The GF, they did leave out some of the key elements the book goes into. They're not essential to the plot, but do contribute to the overall atmosphere of the book. It feels a little slow in the beginning, but the pace does pick up. It's a tough balance for the movie makers.
In this adaptation we do miss some of Katniss's internal monologue. Here character grows, but apparently not in the same way she grows in the novel.
In short I like the movie. It's an interesting social commentary combined with a great story. I do care about what happens to the characters. I really want to see what happens in the next movie, and this movie makes me want to read the books. Overall, I'd call it a success.
You can find more of my movie reviews here.