My wife and I saw the Hunger Games last night. I described the core plot of the Suzanne Collins book series on which the movie is based here:
In the far future, what’s left of a post-apocalyptic United States is ruled by a tyrannical central government (the “Capitol”) that oppresses and exploits twelve subordinate districts. Every year, each of the districts must send two teenagers (a boy and a girl) to participate in the Hunger Games, a nationally televised game show where they fight each other to the death until only one survives. The government uses the Games to entertain the public and divert their attention away from its oppressive nature, while also reminding the districts that any attempt at rebellion is doomed to failure. Main character Katniss Everdeen ends up in the Games after she volunteers to take the place of her younger sister, who was chosen in the selection lottery.
Overall, I thought the movie was extremely impressive. The first half – which covers the time before the contestants enter the Games arena – was almost letter-perfect. It effectively developed the characters, the tyranny of the Capitol, and Collins’ critique of “reality TV,” of which The Hunger Games is an effective parody.
There were, I thought, a few problems in the second half, which portrays the actual combat in the arena. The filmmakers cut key conversations between characters without which certain plot developments don’t make as much sense as they do in the book. But these flaws are relatively minor in scale.
They certainly don’t outweigh the film’s many strengths. Perhaps the most significant is the way the filmmakers managed to translate the story onto the screen without being able to rely on Katniss’ internal monologues, which convey many of the most important elements of the story in the book. Also, Jennifer Lawrence is very good in the lead role of Katniss, and I thought the other actors were effective, as well.
As for the much-debated political message of the series, it is just as ambiguous in the movie as in the books. However, this movie only covers the first of the three volumes, and the later ones get into political issues more.
This movie did benefit from the fact that The Hunger Games is easily the strongest of the three novels in the series. The producers face a more difficult challenge when it comes time to make the two sequels, where the series’ shortcomings are more evident. Still, this is an excellent beginning.