Here's how I see this little kiddy war narrative playing out:
Lord of the Flies-Some kids finds themselves abandoned on an island without adult supervision and commence beating the shit out of each other as an obvious hierarchy based on strength, cunning, and violence emerges.
Battle Royale (2000)-For some damn reason, the Japanese government sends an entire class of Japanese students to an island and violently coerces them into killing each other. Lots of in-your-face teen violence with a setup very similar to The Hunger Games.
Then comes Winter's Bone, both the novel and film, which is interesting because the story here involves a teenager named Ree Dolly trying to save her younger siblings/weak mother in a perilous situation by acting older and tougher than her age. Which is exactly what Katniss is trying to do in The Hunger Games. In both stories the father figure has already abandoned the families through death. Interestingly, the same actress (Jennifer Lawrence) plays both Ree Dolly and Katniss Everdeen and one can easily imagine District 12 in The Hunger Games as an extension of the Winter's Bone universe.
Finally, we come to the film adaption of The Hunger Games. This adaption was inevitable, of course-even if the book had only been a modest commercial success, it's written like a video game/ready made screenplay already (as Stephen King noted). We get our emotions spoonfed to us in The Hunger Games and survival, murder, mild sexual tension are the main ingredients of this kiddy stew. Hack hack hack, kiss kiss kiss. Suzanne Collins manipulates her readers as adeptly (if not more so) as the adult coordinators of the Hunger Games themselves. It's interesting to note that in the Hunger Games film the kiddy violence on screen is significantly tamer than in the Japanese creation Battle Royale.
Honestly, I don't know what The Hunger Games narrative tells us that we don't already know. Yes, people will kill when they're forced to, even kids. Lord of the Flies showed us all this with a lot more grit and agony, though it wasn't as streamlined and zippy on the prose front. Yes, teenagers may nobly sacrifice themselves for younger siblings, but Winter's Bone showed us this without any glamorous obfuscating.
So what are we supposed to take away from The Hunger Games? Kids can be assholes and heroes, just like grownups? That reality TV is evil? That Woody Harrelson plays a good scoundrel? I'm pretty sure we knew all that already. Alas, I get the uneasy feeling we've all just been enjoying some soft kiddy war porn while gulping down our buttery popcorn. Which really isn't so offensive to me as just another sign of the juvenile-zation of popular adult sensibility in both this country and abroad (and I by juvenile I don't mean in a wondrous, The Little Prince sense, either-I mean it in the "har har I just kicked you in the balls!" sense).
Note: Stephen King's wonderful novella "The Long Walk" should receive an honorable mention in this post. He turns up the teen marathon survival tension with the simple act of walking...