If you were an American high school student, you were probably exposed to at least one classic of dystopian lit, such as Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World,” or George Orwell’s famous duo “Animal Farm,” and “1984.” If you were like me, your first reaction might have been something along the lines of, “Gee, this is kinda grim. Why does the future have to be such an unmitigated bummer? What about the flying cars? What about hoverboards?” Of course, the last two questions were not considered relevant to the discussion. But there’s no denying that literature set in the future skews toward the deeply depressing. In “Brave New World,” humans are divided into castes – bred from the start for a certain path in life, and in “1984” all genuine joy has been leached from the propaganda-driven everyday existence of the protagonist. While there is sex in the various futures, it is largely mindless, illegalish or both, which may be why old-fashioned dystopian novels fall short in ways the new ones do not.
Why? Mainly, because the new dystopian novel crop rarely forget a certain key element guaranteed to appeal to their teen readers. Which is, of course, a really awesome love triangle. When authors, such as Suzanne Collins, boldly stepped into the breach to correct this with what became a best-seller, “The Hunger Games,” another element was born – mainly that books were more appealing if they came in threes. Thus followed many young adult trilogies about dystopia, some more successful than others.
“The Hunger Games,” is set in a world where everything is divided into 12 districts (though there’s forbidden hints of a 13th), the rich have all the power, and parents have a tendency to give their kids names based on flowers, pastoral elements or famous Romans depending on their income. Our heroine is called Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) who lives with her younger sister (Willow Shields), Willow’s grouchy cat, and widowed mother in a coal-mining district in poverty. (The mom is so much of a cipher, she doesn’t even get a first name.) Their income is illegally supplemented by Jennifer hunting in the nearby woods, a skill that alas, will shortly come in handy when she and her sister enter the mandatory lottery for the annual Hunger Game contestants (who are all eighteen and under). You see, every year, each district is required to send a boy and a girl contestant to compete in the nationally televised Games, in which all are forced to fight to the death – only one “lucky” winner can emerge. Rich districts consider this an honor and train the kids to be potential winners, though this is technically illegal. But the poorer ones don’t have that luxury.
Anyway, after Willow is chosen (at age 12), Katniss volunteers in her place, and leaves her fellow hunky hunting partner (Liam Hemsworth) behind to head off to the Capitol with a fellow contestant (Josh Hutcherson) who is also hunky and who has always harbored a secret crush on her. Their guides are a former District winner (Woody Harrelson) who is an alcoholic and Elizabeth Banks, the hostess for their event who is so perky you want to slap her. When they reach the Capitol, they are forced to participate in parades and TV interviews and makeovers so that they can win the hearts of the rich viewers and get little bonuses during the actual Games. So Jennifer reluctantly plays along that she has a raging crush on Josh.
Of course, this is yet another movie/novel that breaks its ironclad rules, so both Jennifer and Josh can live. Along the way, though, innocents are sacrificed, and the duo help ignite a revolution in the poorer districts. This will all be resolved in Book Three. The trilogy has to sacrifice certain elements on the big screen to streamline things, but the filmmakers get another cat by the second installment so it matches the book one, plus they get sufficiently good-looking leads for both Jennifer’s love interests, thus showing that they truly know the way to their audience’s hearts.