Having crushed a broad rebellion some 74 years ago, the government reasserts its authority over the population by staging the annual Hunger Games, a sort of gladiatorial competition-cum-reality TV show: 24 teen-agers – one boy and one girl from each district – are abandoned in a wilderness from which only one will be allowed to emerge alive.
Among this year's contestants is tough, resourceful Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) from the poorest region of all: District 12, a coal-mining area that looks a whole lot like 1930s Appalachia. Will Katniss survive? Will she be able to avoid killing Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), the other District 12 entrant, for whom she may be developing romantic feelings? Will the sun rise tomorrow?
It's tempting – though probably foolhardy – to look for cultural/political connections to explain the emergence and immense popularity of Collins's vision. But first you'd have to trace the social and political origins behind the rise of reality TV in the '90s – which is the obvious inspiration for a number of similar films, including "The Truman Show" (1998), "Series 7" (2001), and "The Condemned" (2007). What sets Collins's books apart from these is the idea of the warriors being average teenagers; but even that twist has already been used in director Kinji Fukasaku's great "Battle Royale" (2000), to which "Hunger Games" has many similarities.