It’s that time of the year again, the time for a new sparkly teen blockbuster book adaptation that catches the attention not only of their teenager readership, but readers of popular fiction alike. With the end of the Harry Potter installation and the Twilight saga losing its mainstream appeal, arises the ideal breeding ground for the next big film and book package that is The Hunger Games trilogy.
The first film in the The Hunger Games trilogy is set in a totalitarian dystopian future in the nation of Panem. Panem is separated into twelve poor districts and a separate more affluent controlling class called ‘the Capitol’. A while ago there was a rebellion from the poorer districts against the Capitol, as a reminder of their dominance and power over the poorer districts, the Capitol initiated an annual event in which a girl and a boy from each district is selected by lottery as “tributes” and made to fight to the death in a televised and glamorised game that they call ‘The Hunger Games’.
Suzanne Collins has talked about how the idea for the novel came to her whilst channel surfing. She was flicking between reality television and footage of the war in Iraq and found this combination of images quite unnerving. It was this unsettling feeling combined with other pieces of literature that she had read that served as a basis for The Hunger Games.
It has been discussed by film fans and critics that Battle Royale is most definitely a major source of inspiration to the story. However, there were various pieces of literature written prior to Battle Royale that demonstrate much stronger links to the narrative of The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins cites The Lottery and Thesus and the Minotaur as some of her influences. Greek mythology tells of the story of Thesus and Minotaur, in which King Minos of Crete takes revenge over Athens for the mysterious murder of his son. This vengeance took the form of a summoning of the citizens from the murderer’s town once every decade, in which the seven bravest young men and seven most beautiful young women would be sent as tribute to Crete and never seen again.
Another example is that of Shirley Jackson’s controversial short story, entitled The Lottery, in which the members of a small town have their numbers drawn out of a hat in order to determine who will be stoned to death. The Lottery was highly criticised for its harshness, nevertheless, it should be noted that the premise of the lottery is very similar to that of the reaping event held for the hunger games.
A more light-hearted and mainstream example is that of Richard Bachman’s (Stephen King) The Running Man, about a totalitarian dystopian future in which people may be contestants in a game show with life or death scenarios and financial rewards. Even though The Running Man was written well before the excitement and prevalence of social media and reality television, its themes resonate to this day. In fact, the fear that humans will resort to deadly means of entertainment is a common scenario in all of these works of fiction and makes you consider the consequences of such a medium in our everyday lives.
The socio-political nature of the games is explained quite extensively throughout the novel as we meet certain characters such as a girl named Avox, who help us piece together the extent of the cruelty of the controlling Capitol. The film was less convincing in this respect and tended to leave out important elements in the character development that would have added to the drama of the narrative. By sacrificing these plot markers, it was difficult to follow the motivations of the tributes in the games because it hadn’t been explained extensively that if they lose the game, not only will they die, but the people in their district miss out on receiving food rations from the Capitol. Sure, they glossed over this for one scene of the film, yet the book revisited this notion repetitively, in order to remind us of the desperation of the poorer districts.
The novel is incredibly descriptive, mostly inoffensive and considerably easy to read. The film in comparison was indeed a fairly faithful adaptation, for better and for worse. There are certain moments in the book that should have been left out of the screenplay rendition. For example, we do not need to know that Katniss used to wear her hair in two plaits and now only wears it in one, this is irrelevant superficial information that only serves to patronise the audience and serves no importance to the narrative. Sure, we understand that they are putting on a show for the aim of their love story in the games, but there has to have been a more characteristic sentence to emphasise the forced love interest between them. Thankfully the film did not stray into soppy Twilight territory too much. The underlying themes of politics, social order and equality are all redeeming qualities of both the novel and the film adaptation of The Hunger Games.
The character of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has been praised by critics for being a strong, independent woman with agency, a rarity in Hollywood. In my opinion, this is one of the strongest elements of the film and the best example of an empowered female protagonist since Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena in Xena: Warrior Princess or recent depictions of Wonder Woman in the revamped DC Comics.
Essentially, The Hunger Games is a film that would have a lot more credibility as a science fiction film if it weren’t so dumbed down for children. There is a much cleverer and equally innocuous way of explaining complex political ideas to a younger audience and George Orwell nailed it in his writings of 1984 and Animal Farm. Consequently, if teenagers can understand the intricacies of George Orwell’s writings, then it’s just offensive that this film didn’t take the opportunity to challenge them philosophically, by delving further into the depths of reality television, fame and politics, rather than teen romance, vanity and the survival techniques of cake decoration.
This review orignally appeared in: Machete Girl, Issue 7, "Reap and Repair Edition", pp 47-48.