In the not-too-distant future, civilization as we know it is long-vanished, replaced by a sprawling empire centered on North America that murders children for sport. To punish its twelve constituent districts for past rebellion, the government of Capitol forces them to each send two children to participate in a multiweek struggle of wilderness survival and combat to the death –the Hunger Games. It is a perverse punishment that not only destroys the lives of young people, but makes their last harrowing hours into a source of entertainment when the drama is televised and made mandatory viewing, so that the people under Capitol’s yoke can “celebrate” the forever end of rebellion. But when Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the games to save her sister from dying in the arena, the days of submission are over…because Katniss doesn’t do submission well.
I was quite taken with The Hunger Games, which I read at the tail end of December, and its jump to the big screen is an impressive success, particularly visually: the Capitol uses aesthetic styles that illustrate their inhumanity, like Soviet Union-esque brutalism, and the trite artificiality of the Capitol citizens themselves — their obsession with prettiness, the way they get caught up in the pomp and excitement of the games while ignoring the fact that they’re entertaining themselves by watching children die – is perfectly loathsome, as is their make-up. A dramatized filming of the Hunger Games is problematic, however: although people viewing the movie aren’t celebrating the deaths of children, we are still entertaining ourselves through the onscreen depiction of the same. The film almost avoids this, however: the bloodiest deaths happen to older actors who wouldn’t look out of place being skewered on the beaches of Troy or some other sword-and-sandal epic. The death with the greatest potential for being obscene is handled as discretely as possible, with a cutaway and then a return to the saddening consequence.
In the books, Katniss tells the story, and her narration adds details and flavor that are sometimes missed in the on-screen version, where action carries the day. There are added scenes, however, that tell the story Katniss gave in the books, and these work especially well given that they featured President Snow, who is a more prominent character in Catching Fire. Other than this, the only real injustice given to the book was the appearance of Thresh: in the book, he and Katniss have a poignant connection, whereas here they merely brush by one another, and he’s barely more than an extra. Their moment together, bonding over the death of another character, and the consequences of that bond, were one of my favorite parts of the book and I count the movie as worse for having discarded that.
Definitely worthwhile for a Hunger Games fan.