The success of Suzanne Collins' series, The Hunger Games, was invariably going to translate into a film adaptation. Plus, the concept of a post-apocalyptic world is all too appropriate at this juncture in time. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if we were all fighting for a chance to live on a televised competition in ten years from now (the Olympics and Survivor obviously being the precursor). But, what separates The Hunger Games from other novel series that the American reader has become obsessed with (Twilight, Harry Potter, et. al.) is its ability to poignantly address the basic concept of human existence: Survival. For those who live outside of New York City, it can be a difficult meme to recognize.
As the heroine of the story, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), struggles to comfort her younger sister, Primrose (Willow Shields), about the upcoming selection from their district for the 74th annual Hunger Games, she realizes that there is a very good chance that Prim could be chosen. Not wanting to face that fact until the announcement is made by the escort of the District 12 tributes, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), Katniss dares to daydream of a world beyond District 12, that world being the elusive Capitol of Panem (formerly North America). For this is the place that controls all of the other districts, the place where wealth is possible (it actually sounds a lot like that Justin Timberlake/Amanda Seyfried movie, In Time). Ultimately, Katniss must offer herself as a tribute in place of her sister. Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) is the other tribute selected and, unbeknownst to Katniss, has harbored a longstanding crush on her.
Gary Ross, who directed the film and adapted the screenplay with Suzanne Collins, proves his wide range in directorial scope, considering that his resume up to this point has generally consisted of feel-good movies like Big, Dave, and Pleasantville (and I'm not referring to the bathtub scene in this movie as the feel-good part). The Hunger Games tackles far darker issues than Ross is accustomed to dealing with, particularly the necessity of doing any despicable thing necessary to live. This skill is crucial even before the games start as the tributes chat with TV host Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci, in his best dressed role to date) in order to gain the favor and sympathy of the viewers.
Coached by Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) on how to act and what to wear, Katniss draws attention from the get-go as she rides through the streets of the Capitol with Peeta in matching suits that are designed to be set on fire. When Peeta announces to everyone on TV that he has had feelings for Katniss since he first saw her, Katniss interprets his action as a play for empathy. Katniss and Peeta's mentor, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), feels that this new twist can be used to their advantage if the audience sees them as a pair of "star-crossed lovers" (yeah, the term's been used, but Shakespeare or whoever coined an irreplaceable term).
Once Cinna sends Katniss out on her own, it's an all-out bloodbath, with the weakest tributes being eliminated immediately. Katniss' only prayer is getting a hold of a bow and arrow, as hunting via archery is one of her most useful skills. In the meantime, the remaining tributes have formed alliances, one of them specifically out to take down Katniss, who they view as the biggest threat. Katniss, on the other hand, only relies on one other tribute named Rue (Amandla Stenberg), a girl she feels she can trust because she reminds Katniss of her sister. The others eventually get to Rue before Katniss can save her, leaving solely Peeta as the last cohort she can turn to for assistance. It is at this point that the rules of the game are changed so that there can be two winners if they are from the same district.
A blatant play-up of the "star-crossed lovers" angle, Katniss goes with it so that she can get the fuck out of the woods and back to her sister. Sadly, Peeta mistakes her feelings for being real, though in the book this element is conveyed much more succinctly. When the judges try to change the rules back to simply having one survivor, Katniss resorts to using a handful of poisonous berries she had saved so that both she and Peeta can commit suicide. Knowing full well that the political leaders of the Capitol would never stand for such a result, they submit to Katniss and allow her to return to District 12 with Peeta.
What it all boils down to is this: Lying, cheating, and generally being an asshole have become an unfortunate formula in the essential equation of getting ahead in the modern age. And it will only get worse if we permit it to. But, if you want to view a more humorous side to The Hunger Games, refer to a recent sketch on Stevie TV called "The Hunger Games Die-t Plan."