It might be expected that the first film in what Hollywood hopes will be a multi-million dollar franchise to replace the Twilight and Harry Potter series would follow the standard blockbuster formula and contain the usual Hollywood cliques: star-crossed lovers meeting amidst a whirlwind of danger and violence, the forces of evil being vanquished by the forces of good, despite the odds, and individual heroes and heroines overshadowing the bigger picture. Thankfully, The Hunger Games largely steers clear of these exhausted themes, and even satirises them. Whilst certain criticism is fair, for instance the inevitable gaps in the film as a result of translating Suzanne Collins’s best-seller onto the screen, or the toning down of violence necessary to achieve the 12A rating, it is clear that The Hunger Games is far more mature than many anticipated. A dystopian film that explores a government’s use of gladiatorial combat to control the population, The Hunger Games has provoked feminist and political debate.
Simply becoming a box-office success despite its female protagonist, The Hunger Games takes the standard action film in a new direction. Similar to Twilight, The Hunger Games is delivered from the first person perspective of a young woman – Katniss Everdeen. However, having been thrown into a gladiatorial area, Katniss emerges as a strong, active, independent and complex character, more interested in staying alive than pursuing love interests and not a swooning flower waiting to be courted by her perfect man. Whilst some critics have argued that her athletic build is unrealistic considering her impoverished upbringing, her proficiency at hunting and archery is crucial in establishing her as a character capable of exhibiting masculine traits rather than passively blending into the background as so many female characters do on screen.
One area that bewildering provoked initial criticism from fans is the casting of certain characters, notably Rue, Thresh and Cinna, with African American actors. It seems Rue was a particularly popular character amongst the readership of the book and many fans felt her ethnicity had been altered deliberately in the making of the film for political reasons. This is not true – Rue is explicitly described as having dark skin and black hair in the novel. Since the film is set hundreds of years in the future it depicts a certain level of ethnic mixing which should be praised, not attacked by racist fans whose minds are incapable of imagining a cute, innocent child unless she is white.
Most interesting in The Hunger Games are the metadramatic themes, drawn out through the imbedding of a televised event within the film. It is clear that the film inspires general political distrust, no matter what personal biases you bring to the theatre. Whilst exploring the power of television and the government’s supreme authority over the control of the medium (a particularly contentious topic in today’s world of CCTV and media manipulation) the film also exposes the contradictions that lie between the screen and reality. Katniss and Peeta might present an image of star-crossed lovers to the world in order to please the audience and win favour, in the same way that most Hollywood blockbusters do, but the reality is very different.