People have been pitted against one another in deadly combat forever. As long as civilizations have sought venues for entertainment, bloodsport has been there to satiate the need. The difference between Hunger Games and history is that children were never participants in the combative arena.
District 12 serves as a ghetto for children. They are represented by wealthy ambassadors that do not live there, the eldest take on parental duties, and on a regular basis they are required to fight each other to the death in a tournament. At the age of twelve children are required to enter a pool where the name selected shall serve as a contestant. At “The Reaping,” boys and girls are taken from each district and selected by age and the number of rations they accepted throughout the year. There, they are thrown into a controlled arena, only one child survives.
Primrose Everdeen is entering her name for the first time and her sister, Katniss, is insistent that she won't be selected. Katniss was wrong. So distraught by Primrose's entry into the games, Katniss volunteers to go in her stead. Now, she must fight for her life or become another member lost to the boredom release valve that is Capitol City.
There could not have been a better casting choice than Jennifer Lawrence for Katniss. The quiet reserve of strength that every District 12 resident depends upon. Much like Ree in Winter's Bone, Lawrence takes a character and makes her heartfelt. The only chink in Lawrence's armor is when she is seemingly forced to choose between Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth). It is below her talent and more importantly, it feels forced in this entry to the series.
Thankfully, the romantic subplot between the three is not made the central focus of the film. What director Gary Ross does is create a world where you are placed in Katniss' shoes. Your heart races with every ticking second and attempt on her life. This is a harrowing experience and it is amazing that Ross got away with a PG-13 rating.
Which brings me to my only problem with The Hunger Games, there seems to be no sympathy. Granted, there are those who finds themselves trying to aid Katniss and Peeta, but those who do are far outnumbered by the main who remain lethargic. Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) cannot make up for the sheer ignorance that allow the games to exist. In films like Spartacus and Gladiator the protagonists' circumstances create reasonable suspension of disbelief. There is nothing that can serve in an equatable fashion for The Hunger Games. Elites like Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) know the game to be nothing less than an occupation. A producer continuously rising like Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) can only hope that the carnage exceeds expectations. I do not want to live in a world that has people that are so incredibly lethargic that they can cheer on a massacre like a sweeps episode of The Bachelorette.
What The Hunger Games creates is a lived-in universe where the characters act and feel authentic. Lionsgate has created something here that will tap the zeitgeist. I look forward to how this series will play out and where Lawrence's Katniss will go.