Written by: Suzanne Collins, Gary Ross, Billy Ray
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks
Class divisions have formed in nearly every society because of humanity’s inherent need to put themselves above others. An unfortunate reality and one many dystopian fantasy stories take advantage of in order to elevate what it could mean if taken up another level. The Hunger Games posits what would occur if these class divisions literally got broken down into 12 where the only offering of peace comes from an annual event where each district supplies two tributes to fight to the death. A bit odd, but this feature does incredibly well in setting it all up.
With the annual Hunger Games about to take place once again, within the coal-mining poorest district, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) volunteers as tribute when her younger sister gets randomly selected. As she heads to the capital, she must be prepared to take on the tributes of the other districts as well as her male counterpart, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson).
Making classes fight amongst each other lands firmly in the dictator handbook in order to keep everyone weakened and all of the folks at the top with consolidating the power. A genius idea and one this film based on a trilogy of books seeks to set up and does so with plenty of success. It takes something that genuinely occurs in controlling groups of people but it makes it more on the nose in order to truly emphasize how heinous it can be in reality. Truly one of the vital aspects of science fiction and fantasy, two of my favorite genres and this feature exemplifies why.
With Katniss coming from the poorest district, her journey to partake in the games takes her to the capital where the disparity between what the citizens there receive as compared to her hometown could not be more vast. She cannot even enjoy the temporary amenities, because, in the end, she will have to step into a ring and have to fight other people forced into killing innocent each other. A burden she must take on and the heavy toll it takes on her gets portrayed very well by Jennifer Lawrence, who steps into this franchise role and absolutely commands the screen. As she will do in all of the sequels as they vary in quality, the main denominator between them remains her strong performances.
Leading up to the actual games occurring, the world of these districts gets enriched with how these games become more about gaining allies and playing politics than just surviving. With many tributes simply dying because of dehydration, it becomes about wowing people into becoming sponsors and bringing forth many important supplies in order to basically survive. A game of shaking hands and being nice, which certainly does not fit Katniss’s style as she cares not for the affections of people so willing to watch others fight to the death. It becomes about building narratives for audiences to believe in even if they do not lie in reality. To the people in the capital, they look forward to this for the entertainment factor while those in the other districts watch in horror as they see one of their own most likely dying for the sake of some false sense of unity. This certainly builds more contempt for these people.
Once actually in the games is where the film begins to struggle. The stakes, alliances, and pressure get felt with the knowledge there can only be one true winner. However, in depicting the violence, the direction fails with its unnecessary shaky cam. The intention remains clear in crafting a rugged and non-flashy experience because it matches what these characters feel in the moment. However, the desired effect does not necessarily pan out in a successful manner as it becomes difficult to decipher exactly what was going on during some of the sequences. It falls in line with many of the action films of this specific era where shaky cam became all of the rage for some odd reason considering it rarely ever delivered what it wanted to achieve. Luckily, everything else within the story more than makes up for this fairly lackluster portion.
Serving as an introduction to this dystopian world, The Hunger Games sets the table for this world and the characters inhabiting it. With this first film, we get an initial look at Katniss, who shows a level of defiance not seen in over 50 years and will eventually demonstrate a kindling of rebellion that will ultimately become the basis for the rest of the films within the series. A very entertaining and informative feature filled with lots of flair in showing the disparity between these districts, which explains how things will play out moving forward.