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By Samantha Shannon-Jones
Have you experienced Panem yet? Based on an another bestselling book series, The Hunger Games has been hailed as the new Young Adult phenomenon. With Twilight in its twilight days and Harry Potter long since over, there was a gaping hole in the market into which Suzanne Collins and her novels have fallen very neatly. Collins, who was fully involved in adapting her novel for the screen, now has an estimated net worth of $12 million — not bad at all for a previously little-known children’s writer — and is a member of the elite Kindle Million Club, along with such commercial giants as Stephenie Meyer, Charlaine Harris and Lee Child. But even with her participation, fans of The Hunger Games — a difficult and disturbing story at the best of times — would have worried that a 12A adaptation would cut out vital elements of the plot, which brims with murder, starvation and mutilation. So is the film worth the hype? Was the world really watching on 23 March 2012?
The Hunger Games is told through the eyes of sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen, a resident of the impoverished District 12, who volunteers in place of her sister to play the Hunger Games: a brutal reality TV show in which twenty-four young people fight to the death in a perilous outdoor arena. The youngsters are chosen by lottery. Only one victor is permitted. Collins’ vision of the future is rooted in the bloody gladiatorial traditions of Ancient Rome and the Greek myth of Theseus, but was also inspired by the Iraq War and other modern conflicts, giving it a razor-sharp contemporary edge. Collins was channel-hopping when she conceived the idea. “I was tired, and the lines began to blur in this very unsettling way,” she said to Publisher’s Weekly. The result was The Hunger Games.
Despite receiving mostly positive feedback from critics, the film and book have been criticised for their similarities to other recent productions, most notably Battle Royale (2000), which was similarly based on a novel, and Series 7: The Contenders (2001). But what makes this story different is its hard-hitting relevance to our society. Western hunger for entertainment has grown stronger over the last decade, to the point that we actively relish seeing Simon Cowell strip a trembling six year-old singer to tears. The Hunger Games takes that bloodlust and grounds it in reality. The film is very strong in its portrayal of the Capitol, the decadent control centre of Panem, which spoils and idolises the contenders before sending them to their bloody deaths. Jennifer Lawrence is flawless in her portrayal of Katniss, who despises her task but still fights for survival.
The Hunger Games took a very respectable $152.5 million on its opening weekend in North America, besting the first film in the Twilight franchise. The sequel, Catching Fire, has been tenuously billed for release in November 2013. Still, some viewers have argued that the 12A certificate was inappropriate for a film about child-on-child homicide. Zygi Kamasa of Lionsgate admitted he would prefer his ten-year-old daughter not to see The Hunger Games, which has a “lot of adult themes” and “frightening and gory scenes”. The film was initially set for a 15 before the company made a series of recommended cuts. Still, you have to wonder what might go through the mind of a four year-old if they saw tiny Rue (played by thirteen year-old Amandla Stenberg) with a spear through her chest.
The film has also received mixed feedback over its heavy use of a handheld camera. Complaints of motion sickness have been rife, and some reviewers have felt that while the film’s content was good, its execution was poor. The unsteady camera is sometimes off-putting, but strengthens the association with reality TV, giving the narrative a note of Orwellian voyeurism.
The Hunger Games is not for very young children, but it could just be for you. Fans of the book will enjoy its fidelity to the novel, whilst newcomers will be gratified with the accessible storyline and strong acting. I only hope the inevitable love triangle won’t be blown up to ‘Team Peeta’ and ‘Team Gale’ proportions.