Young people, selected by lottery, slaughter one another with kill-or-be-killed desperation in The Hunger Games. The savagery is a yearly ritual mandated by the tyrannical regime of Panem, a broken nation built, after a terrible war, on the futuristic ruins of North America. It's also broadcast on live TV, a national media event. This horrific vision of a near future in which teenagers are in peril is sickening, but the individual heroism of some who fight is also thrilling, as millions of readers can attest.
The good news now coming out of Panem, both for those who already know just how brutal the Games become and those who are new to the dystopian tale, is that the movie adaptation knows how to play too.
The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each of the twelve districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle to the death until only one person remains.
This Hunger Games is a muscular, honorable, unflinching translation of Collins' vision. It's brutal where it needs to be, particularly when children fight and bleed. It conveys both the miseries of the oppressed, represented by the poorly fed and clothed citizens of Panem's 12 suffering districts, and the rotted values of the oppressors, evident in the gaudy decadence of those who live in the Capitol. Best of all, the movie effectively showcases the allure of the story's remarkable, kick-ass 16-year-old heroine, Katniss Everdeen.
Katniss — who volunteers to fight in place of her sister as one of District 12's two unfortunate ''tributes'' when the little girl is chosen — is the heart and soul of the story, one of those feisty female protagonists pitched to the YA market but appealing to adults as well. Katniss is happiest when she's hunting food for her family with the bow-and-arrow precision that is her specialty. She's a tomboy with a trademark brunet braid down her back, and she's a graceful young woman — strong, self-possessed, and unaware of her own beauty, whether dressed like a backwoods scout or dolled up for pageant display in gorgeous gowns.