It's not at all surprising that "The Hunger Games" grossed over $407 million in the U.S. alone. The book upon which it's based is its own phenomenon and the film is extremely well produced. It's biggest draw, though, is the kind of universal themes Hollywood is finally getting back to and finding huge commercial success with (most recently with "Avengers," "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," and "The Dark Knight" trilogy) -- themes such as, liberty, self sacrifice, and fighting for something bigger than yourself.
"Hunger Games" is set in North America (now called Panem) in a dystopian future where the elite few live in The Capitol, a prosperous and advanced metropolitan area that holds power over a majority of the population, which is rural, poor, staving, and broken into 12 separate districts.
Once upon at time there were 13 districts but after a rebellion against The Capitol, 13 was destroyed and ever since, as ongoing punishment, one boy and one girl (between the ages of 12 and 18) from each district are annually chosen by lottery to participate in the Hunger Games -- a televised fight to death where the winner is the sole survivor.
The Hunger Games, though, are really just an excuse to entertain the grotesque elite and nothing more than MTV's "Real World" taken to the next level. Everything is televised, contestants are turned into celebrities, sponsors are solicited, and then the unlucky 24 are dropped into an arena and manipulated by The Capitol into offing one another.
But we're not just seeing craven, narcissistic celebrity taken to that next level, we're also seeing the Obama/Hollywood vision for America fully realized. In Panem, the left's idea of "equality" has finally been achieved. There's "them" and then there's "us." "They" are our know-betters, our elite overlords, living in wealthy decadence and devoted only to pleasure. We, on the other hand, are all equally poor, desperate, and starving.
This class system is also known as socialism.
Moreover, you have Panem's Entertainment Class making sport of everyday citizens; mocking, humiliating, and denigrating them on reality television for shallow shits and giggles. Other than the "to the death" part, we're not too far from that now, are we?
Essentially, "Hunger Games" is the story of how a statist, socialist, left-wing government and the entertainment class it supports work together to keep the population in line. While the film takes this to an extreme, this is not far from our reality for its our own Hollywood that makes noble all things big government and enforces behavior and speech codes through the non-stop soft fascism of political correctness.
"Hunger Games" has its problems. The run-time is a little long, the end felt anti-climactic, the shaky-cam needs to be exterminated, and I would've liked to have seen our protagonist Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) confronted with more impossible choices. But overall, director Gary Ross does a splendid job holding our attention and keeping the story turning. Undoubtedly, though, his smartest choice was in hiring Lawrence.
As the resourceful young heroine who voluntarily takes the place of her younger sister in the games and then experiences first love under the most tragic of circumstances, Lawrence proves herself to be a real star. Other than the themes, it's Lawrence and Lawrence alone -- her performance and presence -- that lifts the film above its pulpy basics and draws us emotionally into the plight of her character.
Lionsgate took a huge chance taking on this trilogy and hit a well-deserved grand slam commercially and a standing triple artistically. Bring on the sequel.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC