People say it’s fluff, but I really don’t care. Aside from the return of Mad Men, the release of the film of Suzanne Collins’ brutal tale of dystopian love and violence had been my most anticipated media event so far this year. I read the trilogy (aimed at ‘young adults’, which I’m not quite sure I count as) last year after reading some of the fuss and fanaticism about them online. The books were actually published back in 2008 but have risen to a kind of cult status in the US. Given that I’m not the books’ target audience it’s hard for me to say if they’ve had an impact over here in the UK, but the impression I’ve got so far is that they’d received little coverage. However, with the massive campaign around the film begun, I think that’s likely to change very soon…
So what’s the appeal? The films have been marketed in a way that is surely to capture on some of the frenzy that followed the Twilight Series, with ‘Team Gale’ and ‘Team Peeta’ (the two rivals for the heroine’s affections) t-shirts, but there’s very little similarity. It’s far darker, nastier, though there is a bit of sparkling. Apparently some teen hunks have been cast in the male lead roles, but given that to me both look rather like children, I’m unable to comment. The book is light, but enjoyably so (it is afterall aimed at a younger audience). It’s gripping, full of twists and cliff-hangers and nice, easy-to-read type. You could easily finish the whole thing in a few sittings. The plot bares some similarity to that of Battle Royale, in a strange future the people are ruled over and oppressed by a cruel dictatorial force. In order to keep them in line, each year 2 children from each district are put into an arena to fight to the death. Only one can survive. The battle is televised, and the contenders can win support (and supplies) by providing the nation with good entertainment. So things get grisly. Our heroine, headstrong tough cookie and nifty bows-woman Katniss Everdeen opts to take her sister’s place in the games and longs to stick a finger to the greedy Capitol. She enters the games with Peeta, a sweet-natured boy who claims to have always had a soft-spot for her. Or is he just saying that to win over the audiences? Will he really kill her? Time will tell….
Collins has been criticised for ripping off Battle Royale, though she claims to have been completely unaware of it, basing her story more on greek myths and tales of gladiators. You have to admit the premise does sound awfully familiar, but it’s also a storyline that was seen in The Contenders and a few other places. Besides, there’s more to The Hunger Games than just the games themselves. I won’t spoil the plot, but it does extend beyond the initial fight-to-the-death. Given the books’ target audience, the film has been released as a 12a, which means they must be keeping the violence quite tame (not an easy feat for a book that revolves so much around young people killing each other). That was probably one of my main complaints with the books, they weren’t quite bloody enough! So I don’t have high expectations for gore in the films, I imagine a lot will be implied or off camera. Do you remember the fuss when JK Rowling announced that there would be a death in one of her books? The poor kiddies! Well, people die all the way through this, in rather gruesome ways.
Collins creates a rich and disturbing world of the future, intricate in its details. The cruel laws enforced by the government, the customs and luxuries of the privileged Capitol, the rituals that train and prepare the tributes for their final fight: these are the things that make the book so deliciously enjoyable. Just seeing the trailer has made me ooh and ah, the glorious parade costumes, the ultra-modern city, the slick and secretive training camp, I’m excited to see it brought to life! I’m not expecting Oscar-worthy cinematic gold or a really thought-provoking piece, which I very much doubt it will be. As with many a hotly-anticipated blockbuster, I want something visually stunning, glorious on a big scene, silly and enjoyable. It’s big-screen comfort food. I can’t wait.
See the trailer here.