Based on a ‘young adult’ novel that is the first in a trilogy, and featuring a teenage girl as its protagonist, The Hunger Games has been described as – before anyone had even seen it – the ‘next Twilight’. In terms of box office success it may well be as popular as the vampire romantic drama, appealing to both teens and adults, but it beats the Twilight movies hands down when it comes to the quality of its plot, script, direction and performances. So there.
Set in a near future where North America has suffered through some sort of war and been renamed Panem, the story focuses on young Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), who lives in the impoverished District 12 with her younger sister Primrose and their mother, hunting for food in the surrounding woods with her best friend Gale (Hemsworth). Each of the 12 districts of Panem answer to the wealthy Capitol, and each year one boy and one girl from each district are selected by lottery to compete in the Hunger Games – a fight to the death in a rural arena. 24 ‘tributes’ between the age of 12 and 18 go in, and they fight, kill and hide from each other until only one remains. When Primrose’s name is drawn, Katniss volunteers to go in her place, while the boy selected to represent the district is Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), a baker’s son who once tossed a starving Katniss some bread. Together they travel to the opulent Capitol, with little chance of either of them returning.
While sci-fi and horror fans will notice similarities to Shirley Jackson’s story The Lottery and Stephen King’s The Running Man (both of which have been made into movies), and the Japanese thriller Battle Royale, there is a lot that is original about The Hunger Games, too. The film, like its source novel, dives straight into the action without the usual preamble, quickly and expertly depicting the difference between the poor, almost medieval districts and the rich Capitol (its inhabitants sporting vibrant colours and eye-catching make-up reminiscent of the costume design for The Fifth Element). Much of the action is shown using handheld cameras, making the fight for survival seem real and raw.
At the centre of it all are the actors, and many are perfectly cast. Stanley Tucci is a scream as the blue-haired presenter of the Hunger Games TV broadcast (his copresenter is the equally bizarrely-coiffed Toby Jones, but he sadly gets little screen time), while Donald Sutherland is suitably sinister as the President, toying with these kids’ lives. While Hemsworth doesn’t get much to do in this instalment, he looks the part of Gale, and there’s also nice support from Hutcherson as Peeta (the third part of a potential love triangle with Katniss) and Woody Harrelson as former Games survivor-turned-mentor Haymitch. But best of all is Jennifer Lawrence, who is the heart of the movie from the very first scene. Her Katniss has to be tough, a loner, and even a bit mean, but we have to want to root for her too, and Lawrence manages to get us to want her to win, even if it means she has to kill quite a few fellow teens to do it.
Inventive, brave, resilient, resourceful (and she can rock an evening gown, too), Katniss is the best reason to watch and enjoy this smart and absorbing film. Bet she could kick Bella Swan’s ass, too.
Is The Hunger Games suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
The movie is aimed at the over-12s so does feature some violence (after all, that’s what the Games are about) and blood, so is not suitable for younger viewers. It’s not scary, however.