The Hunger Games (2012)
Succeeded by: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013)
Based on the best-selling futuristic young adult books by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games has the essence of classic dystopian literary or film works like 1984, THX 1138 or, more specifically, Stephen King's The Running Man, but manages to weave its own spellbinding originality and present a fascinating story with a complexity and integrity which a good adaptation can boast, and which is rarely achieved with films not adapted from literature.
We follow two teenagers from the poor and remote District 12 in a future nation ridden with war and disaster. Having been chosen to represent their district in the annual Hunger Games, a contest or rather an involuntary battle of life and death, the two find themselves fighting for their lives together with a group of other scared-to-death teenagers in which the last man standing wins eternal fame and glory. There are no rules, but plenty of cameras – through which the rest of the nation watches and roots for their district's contestants.
One of the best parts of The Hunger Games is how delicately the film portrays the unhealthiness of it all: the kids' fear, the nation's charade of pride, excitement and glory, and all the well written and acted humanity in the midst of it all. Like other examples of mass suggestion (such as Nazi Germany), the allure and glory seemingly overshadows the immorality, and we the viewers are left in the same predicament as the spectators of the Hunger Games; we know it's wrong, but we still want to watch.
The story's underlying themes, of the elite wanting to control and subdue the masses, have already been more than sufficiently explored on film in the past, but what director Gary Ross (Pleasantville) is able to convey in terms of pertinent drama and tension in the fascinating setup is nothing short of amazing. The brilliant visuals, including the masterful set design by Larry Dias, add to this effect, as does the fine acting from a number of inspired players, including the talented Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone) in the lead role, a fun Stanley Tucci as the TV host, and a brilliant Woody Harrelson as a previous and disillusioned champion of the games. The game is on. Now let's just hope this film isn't tarnished by a number of sequels, which seems to have become the norm in adaptations in this sub-genre lately.