To the delight of its built-in fan base, “The Hunger Games” film, based on the hugely popular sci-fi book series by Suzanne Collins, will hit theaters tomorrow (or tonight, if you’re the type to brave midnight premieres of wildly anticipated movies). In case you’re one of the few who haven’t yet jumped on the “Hunger Games” train, first of all: What’s wrong with you? Get thee to a bookstore!
If you’re planning on seeing the movie first, however, no judgement. Here’s a primer to set the scene of this cutthroat dystopian drama.
“The Hunger Games” is set in Panem, Collins’ vision of a future America after it’s been decimated by an unnamed apocalyptic event, resulting in the establishment of a domineering authoritarian Capitol. The metropolitan Capitol reigns over 12 subordinate districts, each representing a different region of North America.
After a rebellion by a now-destroyed 13th district, the Capitol established the “hunger games” as a way to keep the districts scared and repress further rebellion. Every year, each district must offer up two children, one boy and one girl between the ages of 11 and 18, to compete in an enormous battle to the death in a massive, inhospitable arena-turned-wilderness.
The “tributes,” as the competing kids are called, are chosen by a lottery. As most of these children’s families are extremely poor, they’re encouraged to enter their names in the lottery multiple times for a year’s supply of grain and oil, which many do.
Oh, and one more thing to make the games even more gruesome: They’re televised live and around the clock, and every citizen is forced to watch. Collins clearly attacks reality TV culture here, as the gamemakers engineer the games to be as juicy, sensational and violent as possible. Furthermore, the tributes are sent through a rigorous glamorization process, paraded forth in costume and interviewed one by one in a drawn-out preshow, much like those on “American Idol,” “The Amazing Race” or any number of real-life competition reality shows.
The difference is, by the end of this show, only one contestant makes it out alive.
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) — An independent, headstrong 16-year-old tribute from District 12 and the protagonist of “The Hunger Games.” Katniss is a hunter, archer and all-around badass from the Seam, the destitute coal-mining community of District 12. Katniss uses her hunting skills to help take care of her starving family and has latent rebellious sentiments toward the Capitol.
Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) — Katniss’ male hunger games tribute counterpart. Peeta is the son of a baker, more well-to-do than Katniss but seriously lacking in the survival skills department. Peeta is, however, unusually strong from hauling around bags of flour in the bakery. (Swoon! Muscles and baked goods?) Although he’s set up as a love interest for Katniss both by Collins and within the story by the gamemakers, Peeta is definitely more Machiavellian than he seems. Peeta confesses his (maybe real?) love for Katniss before the Games. Milking his lover-boy image to gain popularity in the games and get sympathetic sponsors to send him supplies.
Gale Hawthorn (Liam Hemsworth) — Katniss’s lifelong friend and fellow Seam resident. Gale promises to take care of Katniss’s family if she doesn’t survive the games.
Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) — A former games winner and Peeta and Katniss’s assigned mentor. Although Haymitch is a curmudgeonly drunk, haunted by the memories of his own time in the arena, Haymitch becomes a trusted adviser to the District 12 tributes.
Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) — The District 12 tributes’ escort and handler. Effie epitomizes the decadence of the Capitol. Effie is also both bubbly and a perfectionist, extremely concerned that Peeta and Katniss follow the games guidelines to a T.
Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) — Stylist to Katniss and Peeta in the publicity circus period before they start the Games. Cinna becomes a confidante and comfort to Katniss, and later nudges her in the direction of rebellion against the Capitol.
Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) — A TV personality and the host and interviewer of the hunger games, Caesar is basically the Ryan Seacrest of Panem.
President Snow (Donald Sutherland) — The president of Panem and the main antagonist of the “Hunger Games” series. The first hint that your president might be evil? He smells like blood. Ick.