Teenagers are far from stupid, and contrary to popular opinion large numbers of them love to read. With so many other things on television, cinema screens, and the internet grappling for their attention it’s quite gratifying to see that all the most successful films marketed at teenagers over the past decade have all been based on books.
The Hunger Games is the latest of these. Like Twilight, Harry Potter, and Northern Lights it exists in a fantastical universe where a teenage hero must overcome the odds to save themselves from peril.
The film opens with its heroine, Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence), with a bow and arrow in her hand, hunting for food. She’s interrupted by her best friend, and potential love interest Gale. Both of them are nervous. The “Reaping” is about to take place, and there’s a good chance they could both get picked to take part in “The Hunger Games” a fight to the death between twenty-four children; one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts.
Needless to say Katniss ends up heading to The Capitol to take part, along with Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), a nervous, and less capable boy her age.
Aside from being a way for those in The Capitol to control the twelve poorer districts, The Hunger Games also serves as a piece of entertainment. Contestants can get ‘sponsors’ to give them stuff they might need to survive while taking part in the games. So, the second act of the movie sees Katniss and Peeta being paraded around for all to see, aided by Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) amongst others.
Finally, The Games begin and we see Katniss do her best to survive The Games with not only the other contestants but The Games’ organizers against her. Who can she really trust, and should she even get close to anyone if she hopes to win?
For fans of modern cinema, the immediate comparison you have to make is Battle Royale, which essentially has the same plot of teenagers in a fight to the death run by adults, although without the reality television twist.
While there are a lot of similarities, Hunger Games exists in a much more well developed and well rounded world. The book is part of a trilogy, and as such the Battle Royale-style fight to the death, is just one element of a much larger story.
The film itself is well done. Having not read the books it still felt like the producers stuck rigidly to all its elements. While this can often be a mistake, it does give the film a freshness and a clear voice which although jarring at times works in its favour.
The fashions of the people in the Capitol are loud, colourful and ugly for example: think France pre-revolution. However, they are certainly memorable and all elements of the art design work together rather nicely to never make you feel too comfortable inhabiting this world. Something just isn’t quite ‘right’ about the way people dress and behave and you long for someone to change it.
The first fifteen minutes of The Games are very similar to a typical horror movie, jumps, scares and false alarms. We remain on edge for quite a while until the film’s pace changes slightly and changes into a more digestible teen drama.
Without giving anything away, The Games cease to be that scary for most of the remainder of the film and I felt like the characters should have been a lot more ‘on edge’ to make the dramatic finale work as well as it should have.
Nevertheless, the relationship between Peeta and Katniss is a very strong one. The film never gives away too much in terms of whether Peeta genuinely cares about him, or is creating a romance to get more sponsors. This leaves us with a brilliantly confusing teenage romance: neither character sure how to read the other, or express their true feelings. Katniss knows she cares for Peeta, but just how deep does that care go?
It’s a feeling most teenagers (and adults) for that matter will have experienced in one form or another, and yet it’s difficult to remember it as strongly portrayed on film.
Overall, The Hunger Games is a very enjoyable experience, if not in terms of horror, at least in terms of story and characters. It’s the type of film it’s easy to recommend to teenagers, and it’s not hard to see why it appeals so much to them: balancing so many great themes of freedom, exploitation, friendship and romance.