What do you get when you take a brilliant dystopian setting, mix in some great characters, a heaping helping of brutal death sport, a dollop of teen romance and a dash of teen angst? You get the Hunger Games trilogy, one of the best young adult series’ of recent years. Need to get up to speed on why The Hunger Games is so great, and the film so promising? You’ve come to the right place. Here are ten reasons we love The Hunger Games…
The Hunger Games is set in Panem, a nation state located in what was once North America. Once North America, you say? Yep, the world has gone to hell. Climate change and a global nuclear war transformed the planet, and out of the ashes rose Panem. The new nation was structured with the Capitol at its heart (somewhere in the Rocky Mountains), surrounded by 13 districts, each of which is charged with production of one resource or another. District 12, for instance – which is one of the main settings of the book and film – is a coal mining district. Other examples are District 3, which produces electronics, and District 4, whose main industry is fishing. Each district, in other words, provides good and services for the Capitol.
75 years before the events of the film/first book, in the ‘Dark Days’, the districts rose up in a rebellion against the Capitol, and after a prolonged conflict, were crushed. District 13, in fact, was entirely annihilated, and the citizens of Panem are regularly shown footage of this decimated district to underline what happens to those that oppose the Capitol.
Of course, that’s not the only way the districts are kept in line…
The districts may hate the games, but that’s not the case in the Capitol, where many of the citizens genuinely love and look forward to The Games. What’s up with that? Better move on to our next point, eh?
The difference between haves and have-nots in Panem is nothing short of extreme. While some of the districts are wealthier than others, they’re largely impoverished and ruled with an iron fist. Life in the Capitol, on the other hand, is both opulent and decadent. Its people know nothing of hunger, have highly advanced technology, and are obsessed with fashion and entertainment.
This is a world where guests regurgitate their food at parties so they can keep eating, where people dye their entire bodies, have gems implanted in their skin and surgically alter their faces at the whim of fashion, and where wealthier citizens are waited on by servants known as Avoxes – people from the districts convicted of rebelling against the Capitol, who have had their tongues removed and sold into slavery. In short, the Capitol is a privileged and debauched high tech wonderland, and a symbol of the inequalities within Panem. We can’t wait to see how it will be portrayed in the film.
The Hunger Games were also born out of the crushed uprising. What are they? They’re an annual competition where a boy and a girl from each district, aged between 12 and 18, is sent to do battle to the death in an arena devised by the Capitol. The Games only end when one child is left alive. The children are chosen through a ‘reaping’; essentially a lottery. Each child in a district has their name entered into the lottery once when they turn 12, and again each year until they’re 18. Thus, older children are more likely to be chosen, as are the poorer – families may opt to voluntarily add the name of a child again in exchange for food, and when faced with starvation that may be the only option to survive.
And if all that wasn’t cheery enough, The Games are broadcast across Panem and treated like a great sporting event. Interviews and tours precede the ‘competition’ and there’s saturation coverage on television. Don’t like it? Too bad. The people in the districts are forced to watch. And thus see their children – or their neighbour’s children – die horrible, bloody deaths in the name of entertainment. Of course, this is all just a way for the Capitol to – again – remind those in the districts that they’re in charge, and that they have so little power that the Capitol can take their children out from under them, and kill them for the nation’s amusement. Katniss is a Great Lead
So the setting’s compelling, and so is Katniss, The Hunger Games’ lead character. Born and raised in District 12, she has kept her family alive since the death of her father in a mining disaster. Since then her mother has been in a deep depression, and Katniss has become the primary provider. With a younger sister – Prim – to look after, Katniss routinely ventures out beyond the district’s fence, into the forest, in search of game. Skilled with a bow and arrow, she hunts with her friend Gale (more on him in a bit), and anything they shoot is eaten or used to trade in District 12’s black market.
Katniss’ will to live – and protect her family – as well as her hunting skills prove to be crucial in the arena. Of course, she wouldn’t stand much of a chance without the people that support her along the way…
In this world, being the fastest, the strongest or even the most bloodthirsty is only part of the recipe for success in the arena. Being popular is also key. Much-loved tributes (the name for contestants) can gain significant advantages in the arena. The citizens of Panem are able to sponsor tributes and send in care packages – food, medicine, etc – just when they need them the most. These don’t come cheap, and the further into The Games it is, the more expensive they become. These, however, can mean the difference between life and death.
It’s an interesting element within The Hunger Games, and one we really like, as it’s all part of Katniss’ journey from a tribute just trying to survive, to something much more.
The quest to captivate the citizens of Panem starts well before heading into the arena. From the very first parade, which introduces the tributes to the world, through to the televised interviews, anyone who has a drive to survive in the arena must be memorable. Katniss’ stylist, Cinna – played by Lenny Kravitz in the film – becomes a staunch ally, and plays a huge role in that. And then there’s Peeta…
At the heart of The Hunger Games is a love triangle between Katniss, Peeta Mellark – the male tribute from District 12, and Gale – her hunting partner. The relationship between Katniss and Peeta in particular is front and centre during much of the story, as the pair play on the idea of a romance between them for the viewers, and that’s a key element in winning the support of people across Panem. Of course, for Peeta it’s a reflection of how he feels, whereas for Katniss it’s all an act. Or is it? Katniss isn’t sure. And then there’s Gale, her hunting partner, who she’s always viewed as a friend, but… well, okay that’s enough of that. You get the idea.
It sounds soapy and I almost threw up in my mouth a little writing that paragraph, but seriously, it’s a core part of the book(s) and really engaging. It can’t all be kids hacking people apart and tripping to death, right? (And that’s tripping as in ‘off their faces on tracker jacker poison, watching the world melt before their eyes’, as opposed to ‘falling down’.)
The Hunger Games is rooted in a great setting, with a character-driven story, but it’s also no slouch when it comes to tense action sequences. Hell, what do you expect when the story is based around a fight to the death in an arena filled with tricks, traps and killer wasps? Pacts and alliances form, unique skills comes to the fore, and the violence is sudden and impactful.
In fact, once the tributes are in the arena, the masters of the games in the Capitol exert great influence over how things flow. It’s a televised event, after all, and you wouldn’t want people getting bored. To that end, they have ways of using the arena itself – such as shooting fireballs from the sky – to drive tributes into one another’s paths. There is no respite once you’re in there, and that makes for awesome reading – and hopefully awesome viewing.
Like many of the other incredible young adult series’ of recent years (think Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy and Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines quartet), The Hunger Games is compellingbecause it’s so bleak, and because it feels like anything could happen. This series is about kids killing each other in a dystopian future, so even the characters that readers hold most dear aren’t sacred. No need to say more.
Panem’s all-powerful dictator, President Snow – played by Donald Sutherland in the film, is the face of ruthless Capitol oppression. Beneath his cold, calm exterior lies the mind of a madman, who will go to any extreme to retain his grip on power and the Capitol’s hold over the districts. Even his political ascent left a trail of bodies in his wake. His role in the first book (and presumably film) is largely at a distance, as the chilling face of authoritarian rule and puppeteer of the Capitol’s regime.
Oh yeah, and he smells of blood and roses, and that’s… unsettling, in and of itself.
Last but not least, we love The Hunger Games because it’s a story that – in the right hands – will make a smooth transition to the big screen. There’s nothing worse than a truly kick-ass book being given a subpar film, but where we lost out on Northern Lights/The Golden Compass, there’s a good chance this film will succeed. Think about it. Northern Lights was always going to be a herculean task, thanks to its sprawling story, its cast of daemons and polar bears, and its anti-religion message. The Hunger Games is more contained, with much of the action taking place either in District 12 or in the arena, with characters at the fore and a pacing that won’t let up from the second Katniss becomes a tribute. And let’s not forget, where Hollywood may be uncomfortable with a film that rails against the dogma of religion, a bunch of teens murdering each other in grisly ways should be fine, right? Right?
So there you have it… ten reasons we love The Hunger Games! (And we didn’t even mention the kick-ass ending!) Now, bring on the film!