So I'm not much for dystopian apocalyptic futures. I like worlds you want to go live in, worlds I can explore, worlds I can run around in. Worlds with galloping horses and rising moons and trees and Elves who talk to them. Maybe that's a bit escapist. J.R.R. Tolkien said something about that, that of course you'd want to escape your dreary mundane grind. But fantasy and SF are not escapist; you step out from under the trees of your own forest (into the world of the story) so you can see your forest more clearly. Good SF/fantasy is a Hero Journey (go ahead, read some Joseph Campbell, George Lucas did) in which the Hero crosses a threshold into another world, journeys there, overcomes obstacles (with the aid of magic, tech, helpful wizards, talking animals, Obi-Wan and Gandalf, etc.) and returns to his/her world with a boon for the home village; a Grail found, a One Ring or Death Star destroyed.
The Hunger Games fulfills the Hero Journey model, down to the Hero(ine) being a rather ordinary person, no Warrior trained from birth, no "you're the last of the Jedi", no "you're a wizard, Harry", no "you know that ring you got from the little gnarly guy in the cave? You know all those Black Riders out there lurking in the shrubbery? Well..."
I first heard about The Hunger Games in a program on YA fiction at Balticon 2011. It sounded interesting. It gives us a girl who does far more than obsess over pale glittery boys with weird teeth and no frontal lobes. Katniss is a Hero in the finest sense of the word, an ordinary girl from a coal mining district (which echoes Appalachia, pre-WWII... in fact, it IS Appalachia, post apocalypse) who offers herself in place of her very young sister for The Games. Teens put their names in a lottery; the more you enter, the more supplies you get for your starving family... and the higher your odds of being chosen for The Games.
The Hunger Games are a penance, a (ironically, Rue, one of the characters, is a synonym for pennance as well as an herb) for an uprising against the Capital. A teen boy and teen girl are chosen from each district, each year. They fight in an unsettling cross between a reality show and Roman gladiatorial combat... only one emerges the victor...and alive.
The Capital is rich, everyone else is poor. The Capital is decadent, baroque, over the top. It's as if Elton John's designers had taken a tour through the Baroque period, the hot pink section of a toy store, and collided in a black hole with Andy Warhol and the dark side of Tim Burton. Brilliant creativity from the film's designers; it gives just the right cringing vomitive aura to the hideously artifical world of the villains. The "luxurious" apartments that our Heroine is escorted into are a sterile museum of artifice. When she picks up a remote and cues a holographic wall it shows her, first busy city streets, then a desert, then her own forest; the only "real" thing there is an illusion.
The poverty stricken coal mining district at least has the forest at its back, where Katniss practices her woodcraft and archery skills (her name is related to the Latin word sagittate, meaning shaped like an arrowhead). Some of her opponents are trained warriors (kids from rich districts who are trained from birth for the Games). She is not. She is a more classic hero, the Luke Skywalker, the Frodo Baggins, the one who takes on the Journey even though "I do not know the way" (Frodo, the LOTR films). Like all classic White Hat Heroes, she doesn't strike first (even though the point of the Game is to kill off everybody else). She runs. She hides. She uses woodcraft. She waits. She shows compassion. She sacrifices. She kills when cornered, and then, reluctantly. Actress Jennifer Lawrence (Katniss) is ... well... just wonderful, "providing a much higher level of acting than is normally requird in action films" (Clint O'Connor; the Plain Dealer). I belive her, I relate to her, and so do, apparently many others, teens or older. And it was nice to see Josh Hutcherson (Journey to the Center of the Earth) all (mostly) grown up.
There is a lot of reference to things Latin and Roman in the names; well worth researching. It adds layers of meaning to a story already awash in it.
The cinematography left a girl in my row reaching for the dramamine. There's a lot of handheld shaky camera (as if someone was running through the woods chasing the characters with a cell phone). There's the woo-woo-woozy camera effect when Katniss gets stung by hallucinagenic wasps. There's the PG-13 rating which doesn't let a gory story reach the level of say, 300; the shaky camera covers up much of the gore... and much of the martial arts. (whattheheck IS going on there?!?!?). In a book, even a YA, you can write anything (just not TOO graphic), and the reader will make their own movie in their head according to their experience. A nine year old told me she had no trouble reading Inkheart, but was going to wait till a bit older to see the film. A film puts the images right out there in front of you on a huge screen in surround sound, so the "let's hide stuff" camerawork gives you the sense of chaos, danger, panic...without the gore. Just bring the ginger root and dramamine.
As for me, I may have to check out the books.
Here's a brief description of the plot (wiki):
In an interview with Collins, it was noted that the books tackle issues like severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and the effects of war among others. The book deals with the struggle for self-preservation that the people of Panem face in their districts and the Hunger Games in which they must participate. The starvation and need for resources that the citizens encounter both in and outside of the arena create an atmosphere of helplessness that the main characters try to overcome in their fight for survival. Katniss's proficiency with the bow and arrow stems from her need to hunt in order to provide food for her family—this necessity results in the development of skills that are useful to her in the Games, and represents her rejection of the Capitol's rules in the face of life-threatening situations. The choices the characters make and the strategies they use are often morally complex. The tributes build a personality they want the audience to see throughout the Games. Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA) names the major themes of The Hunger Games as "government control, big brother, and personal independence". The Capitol makes watching the games required viewing. The theme of power and downfall, similar to that of Shakepseare's Julius Caesar, was pointed out by Scholastic
And here's a review:
“The Hunger Games” is an effective entertainment, and Jennifer Lawrence is
strong and convincing in the central role. But the film leapfrogs obvious
questions in its path, and avoids the opportunities sci-fi provides for social
criticism; compare its world with the dystopias in “Gattaca” or “The Truman
Show.” Director Gary Ross and his writers (including the series'
author, Suzanne Collins) obviously think their audience wants to see lots of
hunting-and-survival scenes, and has no interest in people talking about how a
cruel class system is using them. Well, maybe they're right. But I found the
movie too long and deliberate as it negotiated the outskirts of its moral