Film (2012). Lionsgate/Color Force. Directed by Gary Ross. Written by Ross, Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray. Cast includes Liam Hemsworth, Josh Hutcherson, Jennifer Lawrence and Donald Sutherland. 142 minutes. Colour.
Immensely popular adaptation of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games (2008), first novel of her immensely popular Young Adult series The Hunger Games. In the story of a teenage deathmatch there are obvious parallels to Battle Royale (2000) but Collins adds reality Television and romance to the mixture (elements brought out by director Gary Ross). There is also no place for black Humour here, and a Western sensibility prevails; it is slicker and more sentimental and serious but still surprisingly violent.
The United States of America has become the Dystopia of Panem where a decadent capitol is supported by the labour of the twelve districts. In penance for a past rebellion, each year the districts must hold a lottery (see Shirley Jackson) to select a girl and a boy to act as tributes. These are sacrificial victims who must compete in a fight to the death for the amusement of the upper class. The fact that food can be purchased in exchange for additional tickets gives the games their name. In District 12, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) volunteers to take the place of her younger sister and becomes a minor celebrity. This is important, since she cannot compete with the martial prowess of the trained tributes from richer districts and so needs the support of the crowds. Her standing is further raised when the district's male tribute, Peeta (Hutcherson), announces his infatuation with her. The novel belabours the ambiguity of this relationship – how much is just for show? – but it is rather more successfully dealt with in the film.
By abandoning the page, the film also frees itself not just from Collins's indifferent prose but also Katniss's first-person narrative, allowing Ross to expand the film outside of her point of view. Since it is seemingly compulsory for a female protagonist in contemporary children's fiction to be part of a love triangle, this includes adding frequent shots of Katniss's childhood friend Gale (Hemsworth) which serve to further muddy her relationship with Peeta. Also increased is the role of the president of Panem (a menacing performance from Sutherland, who also gets the film's best line). All in all, it is a textbook example of how to translate a popular property from one medium to another whilst broadening its appeal. Not only did it make adaptations of the remaining two novels inevitable, but the huge boom in dystopian literature that Collins has engendered may well be repeated in Cinema.
The second film in the sequence is The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013). [ML]
see also: Children's SF; Games and Sports.
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