“The Hunger Games” has a long and convoluted origin story, being based off of a book that, quite blatantly, steals much of its material from “Battle Royale” also known as “Batoru Rowaiaru”, a 1999 Japanese novel written by Koushun Takami.
“Battle Royale” has spawned several films and even a series of graphic novels. The book tells the story of 42 teenage students, forced to kill their classmates in a show of power by an authoritarian government.
Takami’s novel focuses on themes of totalitarianism and anarchy, wrapped up in a shocking and disturbing story.
The film adaptation of “Battle Royale” focuses more on the characters thrust into such a horrible situation, and how people cope with trauma.
The graphic novel introduces the idea of the competition being a television show and is filled with commentary on the commercialization and standardization of violence, as well as its effects on teenagers and children.
“Hunger Games” manages to synthesize many of these themes quite skillfully while at the same time adding some that are purely American.
It tells the story of a post-apocalyptic future where 12 colonies are ruled from afar by an authoritarian dictatorship parallel to “Battle Royale”. At some point in the past the colonies revolted against their ruling state and ever since there has been a yearly competition between one teenage girl and one teenage boy from each colony known as the hunger games.
“Hunger Games” utilizes many themes, contrasting the almost Amish-looking colonies to the bizarre and over-the-top gluttony of the capital. It is rife with commentary on the dynamic of authoritarianism and anarchy.
The strongest and best executed theme in “Hunger Games” is the glorification and commoditization of violence. Tackling such a theme cinematically, it runs a huge risk of becoming what it critiques, a glorification of violence. “Hunger Games” however walks this line with masterful ability, causing the audience to at times cheer on the murdering of a child.
It’s not without its flaws however. The first 15-20 minutes of the film are off-putting and poorly executed from a cinematic view point.
The cinematographer uses an excess of shaky cam and jarring cuts in scenes that have no need for these methods. While it’s clear this method is used to contrast the violent and poverty-stricken nature of the colonies with the excess of the capital, it’s overdone to the point it loses all subtlety and effectiveness and becomes physically painful to watch.
It also requires a good deal of backstory and the answering of questions, which is slowly built up during the first act quite effectively. The look and feel of the dystopian future harkens back to ‘70s sci-fi films, most notably “Logan’s Run”.
In the second act, the shaky cam comes back with a vengeance. While directors such as Christopher Nolan, and to a lesser extent Paul Greengrass, can make shaky cam bearable, “Hunger Games” strongly suffers because of it, relying on camera tricks to build tension when there’s already perfectly executed tension due to audience investment in characters.
The film’s characters are one of its strongest features, with fleshed out characterization. Jennifer Lawrence does an excellent job of portraying the film’s protagonist, Katniss Everdeen. Lawrence’s acting is both natural and believable and manages to bring an unconventional yet realistic beauty to her character rarely seen in mainstream cinema.
Despite being an adaptation of a book “Hunger Games” stands firmly on its own two feet. While the book provides more insight into characters’ motivations, it is by no means required reading. However, fans will be able to appreciate certain scenes better than those new to the story.
While the movie’s 140 minute length is felt at times, it is an overall excellent take on a story that remains fresh despite having been told before. It will leave you hungry for more.