The Hunger Games looks like being the next huge teenage film franchise based on a book series to follow in the footsteps of Harry Potter and Twilight.
There is also something in it for adults.
The Hunger Games is set in an apocalyptic future where 12 districts are ruled over by the imperial Capitol following a crushed uprising. As punishment for the rebellion, each district is forced, each year, to offer two teenagers, chosen by lot, as tributes to fight to the death in the Hunger Games in front of an avid television audience in the Capitol.
“Hunger”, because starving families in the districts can get themselves extra food by putting extra tickets for their children into the lottery.
The film series centres around Katniss Everdeen (rising star Jennifer Lawrence, best known for her role in Winter’s Bone), a 16-year-old girl who volunteers as tribute to save her younger sister, Prim. The other tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mellark (played by Josh Hutcherson), with whom Katniss feigns a romantic relationship during the Hunger Games in order to help them survive.
The film is long (142 minutes) but does not drag. The adaptation devotes time to events in District 12, a coal-mining area, portraying it in a way that brings to mind the Great Depression. The scene where Katniss volunteers is a poignant and heart-shattering display of the inhuman power of the Capitol over the districts.
The film has a strong anti-imperialist message, which comes to a head late into the film. Following the death of one of the tributes, the people of District 11 rebel against the Capitol’s troops. The rebellion is trampled but its political impact resonates.
Similarly, the pre-Hunger Games sequences in the Capitol, with their extravagance and opulence (depicted by Elizabeth Banks’ Effie Trinket, Wes Bentley’s Seneca Crane, and games commentators played by Stanley Tucci and Toby Jones), evoke the worst excesses of historic empires, in counterpoint to the poverty in District 12.
The author of the books on which this film and its sequels-to-come are based, Suzanne Collins, says that the idea came to her from flicking between reality television programmes and coverage of the US invasion of Iraq.
It is also possible to recognise elements of Ottoman history in the story. The “tributes” echo the story of the Janissaries, Christian boys taken from their families to be the private guard of the Sultan.
The idea of subject peoples being conscripted into fights to the death for the entertainment of the imperial elite is as old as Ancient Rome.
This is a more than usually rich story, and not just for teenagers.