I read Lord of the Flies in school, which I imagine provides the model for this film (I haven't seen Battle Royale) – children killing each other in the wild, basically. But while Golding was interested in the darkness of man's heart, The Hunger Games goes in an Orwellian direction, exploring economic exploitation and the methods of social control used to dampen resistance to it. In other words, it's a political fable, with the kind of radical politics that I'm seeing a lot more of recently (cf. Snow White cast as a revolutionary).
The hero, Katniss Everdeen, is introduced as a Robin Hood figure, illegally hunting in the king's forests. Her display of fortitude and dignity in the contest she enters turns her into a symbol of rebellion against an authoritarian regime (Wes Bentley the Duke of Nottingham to Donald Sutherland's King John), although we'll have to wait for the next adaptation before we see her at the vanguard of an army. I'm guessing, btw. I haven't read the books.
The games are an interesting tool of ideological subjugation, their logic isn't spelled out by the film, and I'm still trying to tease it out (perhaps I really should read the books). Donald Sutherland mentions that the only thing more powerful that fear is hope, which to me suggests an analogy with the myth of the American Dream. The 'tribute' is forced to ruthlessly compete to the death in order to win fame and riches. The reality, of course, is that the rules are always stacked against them, and the privileged are shielded from the bloodbath.
If the arena is used as a microcosm for capitalist society, the analogy is sophisticated. Candidates compete on marketability as much as on survival skills. The audience don't just want spectacle, but character. The clever thing about the film is that Katniss and Peeta win the game by rejecting the dictates of competition, but in doing so they are forced into roles in another narrative chosen for them – star-crossed lovers going down together rather than tearing each other apart. And Katniss clearly isn't comfortable playing along. The film's ending is both triumphant and disquieting, since the hero survives but isn't free.
Some criticism has been levelled at the film's shakey camerawork and use of close-ups. Milage may vary on this, but I though all the action scenes were perfectly explicable, and thus well presented. Sure the camerawork was often used to convey the subjective experience of Katniss – not only the adrenaline-soaked thrills, but the moments of delirium, confusion, anger, serenity. It was effective. Not only that, but I liked the ragged montage at the beginning introducing us to District 12, and the contrast made with the glitzy stage and the clinically smooth shots of the puppet masters in the Capitol. Not a new idea, but a good one. The film as a whole was expertly put together, and one of the finest I've seen this year.